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Event Archive - Ron Sexsmith, Jill Barber

Mon. December 4th 2006 Alix Goolden Performance Hall (All Ages)
Tickets at: Lyles Place, Ditch Records & Cds,
Presented by: Atomique Productions
With all of my previous records, there are always things that bother me now when I hear them," explains a thoughtful and self-effacing Ron Sexsmith. "I think this is the record where I've really got it right," he adds with a laugh. "It's the record that seems to have that mysterious combination of elements, all falling right into place."
With Cobblestone Runway - his sixth full-length release - the Toronto-based singer/songwriter steps forward with a stirring and reflective collection of cool, propulsive melodies and warm, hopeful ballads. Textured with a deft blend of acoustic and electric guitars with keyboards, Sexsmith moves easily from the warm, hopeful swing of "Former Glory" and the sweet, soulful "These Days," to the soaring, choir-backed "Least That I Can Do" and the smooth-gliding, funk-flavored "Dragonfly on Bay Street." "The thing that I'm really happy about on this record is that all the songs have good grooves and there is more of a pulse to it," says Ron. "And you could almost dance to some of the songs - and that's a first for me."

Recorded by Sexsmith in London over the course of some seven days last year, Cobblestone Runway also marks the continuation of the artist's recent track work with producer Martin Terefe (Leona Naess). Sexsmith first worked with the London-based Swedish producer when Terefe invited him to sing "Always," a duet with Shea Seger on her 2001 debut album, "May Street Project." Impressed with what he heard in the studio with Seger, Sexsmith soon found himself back at work with Terefe - this time recording the title track to This is Where I Belong: The Songs of Ray Davies and The Kinks, the 2002 tribute compilation featuring additional contributions from the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, Cracker, Matthew Sweet, Fastball and Fountains of Wayne. "That kind of cemented it for me," says Sexsmith of the "This is Where I Belong" session. "We did that song in about 15 minutes and I thought it turned out really great. Martin and I just started talking about making a record and I had all these new songs, so it kind of fell together itself."

The follow-up to last year's Steve Earle/Ray Kennedy-produced Blue Boy, Cobblestone Runway was recorded in the midst of Sexsmith's seven-month 2001 tour - one that saw him cheered by audiences across North America (including dates with Lucinda Williams), Europe, Australia and Japan (highlighted by an appearance at the Fuji Rock Festival). "I had five days off last summer so I took that opportunity to fly to London," says Ron. "I was expecting maybe we would record three songs or something and we ended up doing around a dozen."

With the demands of the tour itinerary beckoning, Sexsmith stepped back on stage and, in turn, gave Terefe the keys to the yet unfinished album. "I don't know much about the studio," says Sexsmith with a grin. "I don't know what the knobs do and that kind of stuff. I was in the middle of all these Blue Boy dates so I basically told Martin, 'Just do what you do. Go nuts.' I knew I was in good hands."

In addition to Terefe himself - who provides bass, synth, backing vocals, and percussion performances - the album's all-Swede team of players includes: Claes Bjorklund (Glen Scott, Leona Naess) on Fender Rhodes, guitar and synthesizers; singer/multi-instrumentalist/songwriter Glen Scott on backing vocals; and drummer Christer Jansson (Roxette, Jonatha Brooke). The London sessions with Sexsmith & co. were subsequently augmented with sessions in Nashville and Malibu, where Terefe recorded the gospel choir on "Least That I Can Do" along with the album's lush David Davidson-arranged strings.

Written during the months just prior to the release of Blue Boy, the songs heard on Cobblestone Runway stemmed from a period of personal upheaval and romantic dissolution. "There were some pretty significant changes at the time," says Sexsmith of those tumultuous days. "So after 15 years, I was living on my own - actually I ended up moving in with my business manager. The lucky thing was he has a piano in his house."

The resulting songs found Sexsmith mixing life's hard facts with messages of prevailing hopefulness, as on such tracks as "Former Glory," "These Days," and "Least That I Can Do," Others, like "Disappearing Act" and "For a Moment," were touched with a more pervasive sense of self-doubt. A lot of my songs come from a kind of realism - not overly optimistic but just sort of accepting of things but being hopeful that things aren't going down the drain," he explains. "I guess I'm often just writing songs of reassurance to myself, really. I'm trying to say 'keep going,' basically."

Stepping off that path, the almost hymn-like "God Loves Everyone" was written as Ron's response to the shocking 1998 murder of Matthew Shepard, a gay University of Wyoming student. "The crime itself was horrible enough," says Sexsmith, "but I remember reading about the trial, where there were these folks standing outside with signs saying, 'God hates fags' or "Burn in hell fags.' I couldn't believe that people could actually have those kinds of thoughts. That's where the song started for me. From there, I got in to just trying to write a song about unconditional love, I guess."

For the foot courier turned singer/songwriter, his distinctive sound began to take shape in 1991 on the independently released Grand Opera Lane, followed by a trio of acclaimed Mitchell Froom-produced albums - 1995's self-titled major label debut, 1997's Other Songs and 1999's Whereabouts - and last year's much-praised Blue Boy. While his songs have already been recorded by a wide range of artists, from Rod Stewart to Curtis Stigers, and opera singer Anne Sophie Van Otter, Sexsmith saw the fruits of a milestone collaboration with Glenn Tilbrook appear last year on the Squeeze star's solo outing, The Incomplete Glenn Tilbrook.

Returning to the road in support of Cobblestone Runway while remaining ever in tune to his songwriter's antennae, Sexsmith continues to grow and discover more than a decade after his debut. "I just feel that I've seen a lot of huge-selling albums or artists disappear off the face of the earth," he says. "So I feel very fortunate and yeah, I think I'm singing better than ever now and the songs... they keep coming. So I still feel like I'm coming in to my own."

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Ron Sexsmith

For Ron Sexsmith, there’s always a trigger to an album, something that sets in motion the songs he’s writing not exactly as a concept, but certainly a theme or feel. His last album, Forever Endeavour, was born of a health scare while its predecessor Long Player, Late Bloomer was born of disillusionment. 2015’s Carousel One, however, finds Sex... more info

Jill Barber (Pop/Roots)

Drawing on influences from old-time jazz standards, bluegrassy-folk and hook-laden pop, Jill Barber has the subtle assuredness of a songwriter with “dead-on phrasing, an impressive range and a knack for squeezing genuine emotion out of a cozy alto purr” says Toronto’s NOW. In 2002, Barber moved to Halifax, Nova Scotia from her native Ontar... more info
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