It's become a cliché for music journalists to write "pity poor Ron Sexsmith" stories about how wonderful the Canadian singer-songwriter is and how it's a crime that he doesn't sell more records.
It's only a cliché because it's true.
With his eleventh studio album, Long Player Late Bloomer, in stores now, Sexsmith marks two decades since his recording debut. Over that time, he's amassed a catalog of sparkling, melodic and lyrically potent songs that can stand toe-to-toe with anyone's in terms of quality, yet he remains virtually unknown outside a devoted cult following.
Yeah, it's a downright shame, but what are you gonna do?
If you're Sexsmith, you might try something drastic -- like making your new record with producer Bob Rock, a fellow Canadian best known for his mega-selling work with Metallica and Motley Crue (but who has also manned the boards for crooner Michael Buble).
The results on Long Player Late Bloomer are gorgeous. With top-notch musicians backing him and Rock's undeniable ear for multi-platinum sonics, Sexsmith's songs have never sounder cleaner, more vibrant, better than they do here. As for the quality of the songs themselves, the writer rises to the occasion... or, more accurately, delivers yet another stellar set of tunes.
Sexsmith's greatest gift may be matching his inventive melodies with his keen eye for lyrical details of life's myriad moments. In "Michael And His Dad," a widowed, unemployed father and his young son take time to build a sandcastle at the playground after job hunting and visiting the graveyard.
His lyrics evince an honest melancholy that tethers his bright, soaring melodies to the earth. A perfect example of this is "Believe It When I See It," wherein Sexsmith discloses his lack of faith in a heaven and the human condition ever improving with a sunny chorus that defies you not to sing along. It's that balance of the bitter and the sweet that makes Sexsmith's songs ring so true on this album, and throughout his career (in this writer's humble opinion, his "Snow Angel" may be the best song ever written).
The singer-songwriter would be a rich man if his commercial success matched a fraction of his critical esteem and, yeah, that makes this another "pity poor Ron Sexsmith" story.
That sentiment has been expressed hundreds, if not thousands, of times by now and if it sounds like a broken record to you, imagine how Sexsmith must feel! Or better yet, see for yourself just how he feels in the new documentary film Love Shines, an enormously poignant look at the creation of Long Player Late Bloomer.
Despite effusive on-camera praises sung by songwriting titans Elvis Costello and Steve Earle, Sexsmith and his wife scarcely have two coins to rub together as he begins work on the new disc. Appreciative of the accolades, but ineffably weary of the fact that they've produced little commercial return, his fragile self-confidence is nearly shattered. Meanwhile, producer Bob Rock is stuck between his surname and a hard place, knowing the material is excellent and his production work is first rate, but neither is a guarantor of commercial appeal.
In the end, a stellar album is made... only to be rejected by American major labels as too indie and by indie labels as too mainstream. It eventually comes out, in the US at least, on a tiny, boutique imprint.
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And the sad saga goes on...
The fine film was directed by Douglas Arrowsmith who seems to have created a nice cottage industry with excellent documentaries about critically-acclaimed-but-commercially-underappreciated singer-songwriters. His previous film was Memory & Desire: 30 Years in the Wilderness with Stephen Duffy & The Lilac Time.
Long Player Late Bloomer is available now.