Sexsmith offers yet another gem of an album.
The prototypical songwriter’s songwriter, Ron Sexsmith has been quietly churning out album after album of note-perfect pop of the adult variety for more than two decades now. His is the type of catalog most artists would kill to have in terms of its unwavering quality. One of a dying breed, Sexsmith’s approach cares little for commercial success and instead operates in service to the song; if the average listener doesn’t latch on, it’s not for lack of trying on Sexsmith’s part. His are songs in the truest sense of the word, each perfectly crafted, impeccably performed and self-contained to the point of being able to stand alone while also slot in perfectly from track to track on each and every one of his now 13 releases (14 if you count his 1991 self-released album Grand Opera Line with the Uncool).
The Last Rider finds the perpetually baby-faced Canadian doing more of what he does best, delivering a solid 15-song set that never once allows for a dip in overall quality. It’s a far more complex endeavor than one would think, especially this far into a career, but it simply provides further evidence of Sexsmith’s songwriting brilliance. Operating within his typical low-key, vaguely folk-influenced brand of smartly composed pop, Sexsmith, along with longtime collaborator drummer Don Kerr acting as producer, fill in each and every space with gorgeous nuance. “Who We Are Right Now” is an angelic mid-tempo ballad with a slight twang that could just as easily have come out of the Laurel Canyon set. Of course if it had, it would be a well-known radio staple.
Here, this proves to be one of Sexsmith’s greatest gifts in that his songs carry with them an immediate familiarity that, from a musical standpoint, asks little of the listener. Without being stylistically derivative, Sexsmith distills some of the best elements of ‘70s singer-songwriter/AOR/pop (something he more than alludes to on “Radio”) into a collection that plays more like a greatest hits package than the 13th release in a criminally overlooked career. He plays like a post-modern Jackson Browne on “Breakfast Ethereal,” his understated vocals dipping and diving along with the melody as the instrumental backing builds to a final chaotic conclusion.
Much like the latter day incarnation of Nada Surf or, closer in terms of sound and approach, Josh Rouse, Sexsmith’s pure pop skills seem so effortless as to be almost unremarkable when taken as a whole. Songs like “Evergreen” or “West Gwillimbury” or “Man at the Gate (1913)” (or “Our Way” or “Every Last One” or….) would stand out as highlights on any other album. Here they merely go with the flow of the rest of the album, almost getting lost in the shuffle. There are so many songs of such high quality throughout The Last Rider – not to mention the whole of his career – that it can become difficult to differentiate from album to album what made each so great.
And while that may sound like a backhanded compliment, it’s far from it. Instead, it speaks to the overwhelming quality of Sexsmith’s songwriting abilities and consistency. To have managed yet another collection of this high quality with such seeming ease comes off as almost superhuman. That this collection will likely go as unremarked upon as all his previous albums only serves to further the strength of faith in those who’ve found themselves converted. The “Last Supper”-esque feel of the album’s cover only strengthens this analogy, with Sexsmith winkingly acknowledging his comparatively small following and offering yet another gem of an album.