Cobblestone Runway - incl. Grand Opera Lane - 2 CD SET
Ron Sexsmith came up with the album title Cobblestone Runway after a particularly rough landing at London's Heathrow Airport. There has been nothing bumpy about the creative journey of this well-traveled troubadour, though.
The prolific Toronto-based singer/songwriter has quietly put together a body of quality work with few equals in contemporary music. Cobblestone Runway may just be his finest work to date, and that is saying something.
Thanks to a stellar catalogue now comprising six albums, Sexsmith has earned an enviably high level of critical and peer respect. His songs are much in demand from artists in genres ranging from Celtic to classical, rock to country. That list includes the likes of Rod Stewart, Nick Lowe, Mary Black, and soprano star Anne Sofie von Otter (who recently teamed with Sexsmith super-fan Elvis Costello on a version of "April After All").
To the legion of faithful fans around the globe, however, the best person to sing a Ron Sexsmith song remains the man himself. He has a voice that heads straight for the listener's heart, and it always hits the target. That is confirmed on Cobblestone Runway.
Quite simply, Ron just keeps getting better. Never one to rest on his laurels, he's constantly finding new musical settings for his perfectly crafted gems. Last year's acclaimed Steve Earle-produced album Blue Boy was a highly eclectic collection of songs showcasing a more upbeat and rockin' Ron. Rather than keep treading that particular path, he switched gears and hooked up with Swedish producer Martin Terefe. Sexsmith had witnessed Martin at work on an album by English songstress Shea Seger, to which Ron had contributed a sparkling duet. The pair then teamed up to record "This Is Where I Belong," the title track of the new star-studded Ray Davies tribute album. "We did that whole song in 20 minutes, and that clinched the fact that we should work together."
The Cobblestone Runway sessions proved a whirlwind of spontaneous creation, as Ron recalls. "I had a week off in the middle of a European tour. I told Martin I had these new songs and we should see what might happen with them. We recorded 14 songs in 5 days! I then gave him free rein to go nuts in adding music. In December, we recorded two more songs, fixed whatever was bugging me from before, and that was pretty much it."
Terefe's production has a fresh and contemporary feel, and he is ably assisted by mixer Michael Braver, who has worked on albums by the Rolling Stones and Coldplay. Ron is justifiably proud of the vocal performances captured on Cobblestone Runway. "Most of the vocals were done live, and I think it is some of my best singing ever."
That's exemplified by the gorgeous ballad "Gold In Them Hills," on which Ron trades verses with Coldplay's Chris Martin, to truly moving effect. "That is a song of reassurance," Sexsmith explains. "The reaction it got from being aired on Queer As Folk has been incredible."
Sexsmith's songs are often intensely personal, yet his heart-felt delivery gives them a universal resonance. They provide solace and hope in even the darkest and saddest of times, as was recently shown by "Former Glory," the album's opening cut. "I wrote that for a friend who had been through a breakup," says Ron. "When I was touring with Lucinda Williams just after the attacks of Sept. 11, I started playing it, and people really responded. It's nice when a song can take on a deeper meaning."
Cobblestone Runway's first single is "These Days," a song with a message inside a memorable melody. "Love is not a popular song, filled with empty sentiment," sings Sexsmith, a writer incapable of false sentimentality. "I meant it to be a realistic rather than a cynical song."
Musically, the album is full of subtle sonic shadings and stylistic twists that keep things interesting. Ron takes pride in that. "I definitely didn't want it to be, 'well I'm a singer/songwriter, so I'll just strum and we'll maybe have some Hammond organ in there." I feel much more a pop writer. I want the records to be good. I want people to be able to put on headphones and have a cool journey that way." Mission accomplished!