Canadian singer/songwriter Ron Sexsmith has always given listeners a candid, and bountiful assortment of beautiful failure in both the content of his music, and his productive career as a multi-instrumental under-dog. But “productive” does not necessarily go hand in hand with “successful,” as careers go, and “beautiful” does not necessarily go hand in hand with “appealing,” as music goes. Without successful or appealing happening, bountiful anything has little agency. You get the feeling from Sexsmiths’ demeanor that he might be outside your door with a cupped ear, listening for your opinions of his music while softly shedding tears (or is that just me?). At the risk of seeming unnecessarily brutal, I will posit my thoughts as quickly and painlessly as possible, and do as Ron says: Sneak Out the Back Door.
In what comes off as a generally pleasant and highly approachable collection of songs from beginning to end, Ron Sexsmith’s 12th album, Forever Endeavor, also tragically encapsulates the plight of an aging artist and industry that are struggling to adapt to the often numbingly diverse sound-scape that has been in rapid development since the advent of digital music, and the household use of the i-pod. But the deeper we get into this mucky digital shift, the more it seems that we will continue to reach back to revive nostalgic mediums, genres, and content; it seems that nothing will ever really die out, things will only be re-born, re-discovered, and/or re-worked. So if tradition isn’t really fading with this digital shift as some had originally suspected, why isn’t an artist with as much musical talent as Ron Sexsmith, getting the attention he supposedly deserves? Well, he actually is favored with acceptance across the board by critics, but maybe I can answer on behalf of the youth who quite fondly embrace Elvis Costello, Gordon Lightfoot, Paul McCartney, and just about all of Sexsmiths’ revered musical inspirations: because he takes absolutely no risks and does not have a unique enough style to justify listening to him over any of the greats that he is emulating.
My criticism might only be justified by the obvious amount of talent that Sexsmith showcases throughout Forever Endeavor, while still never really capitalizing on the potency of his lyrics, or the potential zest of his delivery. The re-appearance of producer Mitchell Froom– long time friend, collaborator, and producer of Ron’s first two albums, has ensured the calculated addition of orchestral accompaniment that seems to have been written into every songs’ structure without fail. The mostly overbearing interjections only contribute to a sound that continually seems overworked, and unnervingly consistent.
Perhaps the true dilemma with Forever Endeavor is how damned safe it is. Though I’m more liable to huck rocks over the endless charm that plagues the album without appeal, I can’t say there are not moments of intrigue here too. The fourth track, “Snake Road” has a rather refreshing carefree attitude and a spritely tempo that hits like a breath of fresh air. “Sneak Out the Back Door,” opens with a deeper, rural folk sound and a snappy lyrical delivery, but like most tracks, succumbs to being buried by the eventual orchestral accompaniment, and an unnecessarily illustrious vibe. “Back of My Hand,” and “Me, Myself, and Wine,” are album stand outs that show some versatility and spunk, while “She Does My Heart Good” is a feel good song that genuinely reflects Sexton’s remarkable ability to keep the age-old love song sounding fresh. I can gripe all day about some things, but in the end, Ron Sexsmith is an undisputed heavy-weight in the songwriting realm.
Despite the winning moments in Forever Endeavour though, the majority of the album tends to play through with each song sounding like it belongs in that one dramatic montage of the movie where the character has to persevere through overwhelming obstacles in the face of adversity; that moment where the situation is incredibly dire, and getting through this is going to be rough– the character puts on a smile anyway, faces the day, and makes the best of it though. If Sexton’s disparage was momentary, I’d be less inclined to consider it monotonous and mellow-dramatic, and if his execution was even remotely reflective of anguish, I’d jump on the bandwagon with the rest of the critics and salute Ron Sexsmith as a highly under-appreciated contemporary influence. Until that happens, I’ll stick to the catalogues of Sexsmiths’ influences, and try to live long enough to see his brilliant catalogue of songs be covered by somebody willing to take some musical risks. I know that seems harsh, but given the scope of Ron’s songwriting ability, ‘good enough’ is simply not good enough.