Thirteen albums and thirty odd years in, Ron Sexsmith shifts the goalposts somewhat on The Last Rider, eschewing session musicians for his regular touring band and for the first time producing the record himself.
Having changed so much the results are pleasingly as quintessentially idiosyncratic as ever, as if high-end fining agents have been employed to break down the molecules of his sound, removing the haze and allowing the pure spirit to emerge. It’s a warm, organic sounding album full of round tones and a rich acoustic field which lulls the ears through a series of songs that show a resolutely stubborn unwillingness to follow convention. Certainly, it’s a more band sounding record than any he has yet produced – the lock-step doubled riffs and metrical interplay that comes from seasoned and familiar musicians working in the same room at the same time make it sound truly like a genuine band, occasionally The Band even.
Beginning with the laconic and soothing ‘It Won’t Last For Long’ succinct meta-stories laced with a sepia-tinged sense of transience and nostalgia are laid over yearning chord voicings which like on the delicate ‘Shoreline’ seem to hover always at the edge of your grasp, just short of resolution. It’s tune-rich but uncluttered giving the sense of time well spent in carefully curating an abundance of ideas from a man who has surely never met a countermelody he didn’t like. The remembrance of things past is both lyrical and intrinsic to the album’s sounds: there is a pinch of glam stomp here, a pugil of Wings organ / guitar doubling there, Kinks-esque brass arrangements and guitar tones and above all a deep love for structural backing vocals like the lush 70s harmonies on ‘Who We Are Right Now’. The crisp but balmy production allows this all to sound contemporary and allied to the left-field decision making that takes the apparently whimsical ‘Breakfast Ethereal’ through anti-formulaic song sections into something distinctly other.
The attractive rhythm and acoustic-led closer ‘Man At The Gate (1913) harks pleasantly back to some of his early records but the true highlights are in the Summer Teeth era Wilco transcendentalism of the banjo-wielding ‘West Gwillmbury’ and the majesty of melancholic verse and heartbreakingly positive chorus of ‘Only Trouble Is’. Minor major genius.