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June 04, 2013
Contemporary singer-songwriter touring new album Forever Endeavour
Tuesday, June 4
- 8pm $25 adv, $30 door
In a world of workaday singer-songwriters mired in vacuous self-regard, news of a new Ron Sexsmith record can only gladden the heart of those who care about deftly poetic, gently affecting songs that perfectly distil the pitfalls of being human. Especially when that record pairs him again with the producer who, for two decades, has framed his music in its most sympathetic surroundings.
In the late summer of 2011, Ron bumped into Mitchell Froom in Los Angeles and gave him a CD of demos he’d been working on over the previous few months. His 2011 album Long Player Late Bloomer had been a liberating pop-rock breakthrough for Ron, but when Froom — producer of Ron's first three albums and of 2006's Time Being — began talking of string and woodwind arrangements, the singer was instantly intrigued.
The two set to work in November 2011 at Froom's Santa Monica studio, temporarily dubbed "Froom and Board" by Ron. Assisting on the sessions were engineer David Boucher and a clutch of seasoned West Coast players that included drummer Pete Thomas, bassist Bob Glaub and pedal steel prince Greg Leisz. Strings were overdubbed afterwards using LA's feted Calder Quartet.
The heart of Forever Endeavour, though, is a batch of songs sparked by an unexpected health scare in the summer of 2011, and it's these tracks that give the album its sorrowful gravitas. "In the middle of a tour last year, they detected a lump in my throat, and I had an MRI and the ultrasound," says Ron. "And in the middle of recording this album, I had a CAT scan to see if everything was okay. So I had this period of a few months where I was freaking out about everything, and that probably explains why some of the songs are so philosophical. It was like, 'Either next year I'm going to be battling something or this is the last record I'm going to make'.
The songs are different responses to the alarming chance that Ron had less time left on earth than he'd assumed. "Deepens With Time" looks back affectingly at childhood memories that make us who we are but also "wound and leave us scarred". "Snake Road" and "If Only Avenue" use the same metaphor to gaze back on paths not taken — or choices not made — but the latter is mid-tempo and boomily regretful where the former is defiantly resolute in its horn-parping blues-rock strut.
After the sugar high that was Long Player Late Bloomer, Forever Endeavour is all about slow-energy release, a collection that sits more seamlessly next to earlier Froom productions like Other Songs (1997) and Whereabouts (1999). Melancholy without being maudlin, spare without being simplistic, Ron's songs are invariably underpinned by an acceptance of life as it actually is.
"There's so much out there that's really frivolous, and from my very first album I've always tried to write about things in a way that was realistic and grown-up," he says. "Whatever subject you're on, you want to try and tackle it head-on. I think that's how a song is able to resonate with people. If you're going miles out of your way to say something to people, or you're trying to be clever, you're setting yourself up for a letdown.
"I really do think this is the record I've been trying to make my whole career, but for some reason either I wasn't singing good enough or didn't have the right songs. It really came together this time with the songs and the production and my voice, where I was singing the way I heard in my head. When I handed in the record, the label folks were talking about an 'angle' for the record, and I don't think in terms of 'angles'. I'm just really proud of it."