Mod­est man, amaz­ing mu­si­cian

Ron Sex­smith brings his con­sid­er­able tal­ent to Belleville on Mon­day, April 24

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - ENTERTAINMENT - DAVID REED

Ron Sex­smith is a soft-spo­ken, mod­est man who qui­etly writes some of the most beau­ti­ful and po­etic songs ever penned on Cana­dian soil. He is highly re­spected in mu­si­cian’s cir­cles. Ron once told me about hav­ing brunch at Paul McCart­ney’s house, and on an­other oc­ca­sion, hav­ing din­ner with El­ton John. Both are huge fans of Ron’s mu­sic, along with many others in­clud­ing Em­my­lou Har­ris, kd lang, Feist, Elvis Costello and Steve Earle.

I first met Ron in 2002, just be­fore the re­lease of his Cob­ble­stone Run­way al­bum. Ron’s long­time friend and col­lab­o­ra­tor Don Kerr had per­formed at Cen­ten­nial Sec­ondary School with the Rheo­stat­ics the pre­vi­ous year, and as drum­mer for both groups Don was the bridge that led me to Ron. We made plans to hold a per­for­mance with the CSS choir & horns back­ing Ron and his band.

Through­out the ex­pe­ri­ence at Cen­ten­nial, Ron seemed un­com­fort­able with the praise and ad­mi­ra­tion the young stu­dents were show­er­ing upon him. To them, he was a star. I don’t think Ron wel­comed that re­spon­si­bil­ity, but he gra­ciously signed dozens of au­to­graphs and posed for count­less photos.

The per­for­mance was a night I’ll never for­get. The horns sounded swampy and the choir was shim­mer­ing. Ron and his band smiled from the first song to the last.

Ron was so taken by the ex­pe­ri­ence of per­form­ing with the stu­dents that he in­vited us on the road for three more per­for­mances over the next year, in­clud­ing Toronto’s Canada Day cel­e­bra­tions, Grant Hall at Queen’s Univer­sity and a par­tic­u­larly mem­o­rable show at the Phoenix Con­cert Hall in Toronto.

Due to lim­ited space on the stage, we only took the horn sec­tion to the Phoenix. Ron de­cided to save our five songs to close the show, which meant that we didn’t go on stage un­til about 12:30 a.m. on a Wed­nes­day night.

The kids were se­questered in a room with a pool ta­ble and free pop, for­bid­den to min­gle with the al­co­hol-con­sum­ing pub­lic. De­spite the stu­dents’ protests, I was qui­etly thank­ful for the con­fine­ment.

Be­fore Ron went on stage, he in­vited the kids up to his dress­ing room and pre­sented each of them with a signed copy of his new Rar­i­ties CD. He thanked them for com­ing to make mu­sic to­gether. Ron’s quiet charm and sin­cer­ity made the kids feel spe­cial, and pro­vided a me­mory that will last a life­time.

Since that time, Ron has re­leased eight more records. He has worked with an all-star list of pro­duc­ers in­clud­ing Daniel Lanois, Mitchell Froom, Martin Terefe, Bob Rock, Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy.

RON SEX­SMITH - THE LAST RIDER (WARNER MU­SIC CANADA, 2017)

This is the first record that Ron Sex­smith has self-pro­duced (with his friend and col­league, Don Kerr), and the first to fea­ture his tour­ing band. The stel­lar band in­cludes Don Kerr (drums), Ja­son Mercer ( bass), Dave Mathe­son (key­boards) and Kevin Lacroix (gui­tar).

The Last Rider was recorded at the Bathouse (the Trag­i­cally Hip’s stu­dio, near Kingston) in just eight days. When I spoke with Ron this week he praised the setup at the Bathouse, com­ment­ing on the qual­ity of gear and the pro­duc­tive at­mos­phere be­cause the band slept there, ate there, could take a break and swim in the pool, or record all night if things were rolling.

One of the pieces of gear that be­came a band favourite was a bass synth that dou­bles the bassline on the song Up­ward Dog. With a fil­ter that sounds like a wah, the bass line per­co­lates and me­an­ders through a funky in­tro be­fore set­tling into the song. That bass synth also ap­pears on Ev­er­green and Break­fast Ethe­real.

The song Shore­line opens with a beau­ti­ful acous­tic gui­tar into that blooms into some rich string parts that are rem­i­nis­cent of some of Sex­smith’s ear­lier record­ings with Mitchell Froom. Ron told me that his vi­sion for Shore­line was a sonic mix of the Drifters and Ben E King’s Stand By Me.

Ev­ery Last One sounds like a Kinks song, and Ron ad­mits that the Kinks are “part of my DNA.”

West Gwillim­bury is a song ti­tled af­ter a small town north of New­mar­ket. Af­ter re­peat­edly see­ing the road sign, Ron said that he thought it was a great name and he imag­ined it might be a heav­enly lit­tle place that was frozen in time.

The theme of time also per­me­ates a song called Man At the Gate (1913). Sex­smith had pur­chased a post­card with an old photo of the gates at Toronto’s Trin­ity Bell­woods Park. There is a fig­ure stand­ing in the gates, but he’s al­most a shadow. The song is about the con­nected na­ture of hu­man­ity and the po­ten­tial to in­spire fu­ture gen­er­a­tions.

Other high­lights in­clude It Won’t Last For Long, Ra­dio, Dreams Are Big­ger and Wor­ried Song.

Those look­ing for some­thing spe­cial should be­gin min­ing Ron’s youtube chan­nel (Rawn­boy) where he has recorded over 400 cov­ers of songs by artists like the Bea­tles, Sam Cooke, Bob Dy­lan, Paul Si­mon, Roy Or­bi­son, Abba, Cat Stevens, Spring­steen, Light­foot, Bacharach, and the Rolling Stones. Most are recorded solo, in his kitchen. He has also recorded solo acous­tic ren­di­tions of each of his al­bums.

Ron Sex­smith and his band are per­form­ing at the Em­pire Theatre in Belleville on Mon­day, April 24th. Ron has promised to play a bunch of the new songs but to also de­liver all of the fan favourites. If you’ve never heard Ron in con­cert, let this be your first show. This will be my sev­enth time and ev­ery Sex­smith per­for­mance is a gift.

JULIE JOCSAK/POSTMEDIA NET­WORK

Ron Sex­smith rocks out at the FirstOn­tario Per­form­ing Arts Cen­tre in down­town St. Catharines in Feb. 2016.

JACK BOLAND/POSTMEDIA NET­WORK

Ron Sex­smith will per­form at The Em­pire Theatre April 24.

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