Looking at Ron Sexsmith’s attire this evening – an embroidered jacket worthy of a Nashville troubadour, complemented by Chelsea boots – you’d know what school of song he comes from. With conventional structures that allow him to tell stories and melodies as strongly and as memorable as those penned by his hero Paul McCartney, his songs are grounded in the simplicity and strength of a John Prine song. Although Sexsmith hasn’t crossed over from his cult status (though more covers of his songs by fellow Canadian Michael Bublé might change all that), tonight’s audience is very much cross-generational; those who first heard many of Sexsmith’s musical forebears – John Prine, James Taylor, Gordon Lightfoot – in the 1970s are here tonight, along with the younger generation who have tuned into these songwriters through artists such Sexsmith.
A shaky start involving a busted and battered Vox amp threatens tonight’s proceedings. Opening song ‘Heart’s Desire’ falls flat and seems like an unlikely way to kick of the set. It’s only when the shimmering, infectious pop of ‘Get in Line’, from this year’s Long Player Late Bloomer, follows up that the show begins in earnest. Sexsmith’s four-man band play unobtrusively, with his voice particularly high in the mix, and this is most evident on the slow burning ‘Hard Bargain’. After a thunderous ‘Believe it When I See It’, he follows with the song he opened with at his first Dublin show in Whelan’s almost 20 years ago, ‘Wastin’ Time’.
Shy and reserved in interview, an affable Sexsmith reaches out to his audience, playing a request submitted though his website (a beautiful version of ‘Tomorrow In Her Eyes’) and relating a story about how ‘Gold In Them Hills’ was originally written for Bing Crosby. A magnificent, solo acoustic version of ‘Sleeping With The Angels’, the song which, in his words, “got him through the door,” is the most intimate point of the night.
The highpoint of the night is a truly memorable encore, comprising of ‘Whatever It Takes’ (made famous by Michael Bublé), fan favourite ‘Lebanon, Tennessee’ and ‘Every Time I Follow’. Far from being an unreliable or patchy performer, you can’t help but feel Ron Sexsmith is on the brink of a career-defining festival slot. Lord knows he’s got the songs.
Photo: Julie Bienvenu.