PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.

Music

Ron Sexsmith: The Last Rider

Sexsmith pens songs that are smart without being smarmy, clever without being cynical, and earnest without being shallow.


Ron Sexsmith

The Last Rider

Label: Cooking Vinyl
US Release Date: 2017-04-21
UK Release Date: 2017-04-21
Amazon
iTunes

After 12 studio albums, Canadian artist Ron Sexsmith has earned a reputation as a solid pop songwriter. He pens songs that are smart without being smarmy, clever without being cynical, and earnest without being shallow. No wonder his fans include musicians such as Paul McCartney and Elton John, individuals whose works share similar traits.

The Last Rider is being marketed as Sexsmith’s first real band album in that it includes his touring group (Don Kerr, drums; Jason Mercer, bass; Kevin Lacroix, guitar; Dave Matheson, piano). While it's the case that the band members’ contributions are a bit more pronounced here, the results are not that different than the music on Sexsmith’s other records. The 15-tracks fall between two and a half and four minutes long and tell simple tails of people and places. The narrators are genial enough fellows who share a positive outlook but are experienced enough to know life doesn’t always work out as planned.

The songs are filled with soft reflections and clichés that initially seem insipid in a good-humored way. Sexsmith liltingly sings the amiable chorus of “Dreams Are Bigger” as if it were true: “If your dreams are bigger than your worries / you’ll never worry about your dreams” while the soft playing of a tuba and piano in the background suggest old-time values. But it’s clear that Sexsmith and company don’t believe this. They are whistling in the dark. Hence, they evoke the past to invoke the present and future. Dream on, indeed, because worrying never did anyone any good.

Sexsmith can get away with such platitudes because he doesn’t posit them as anything more than idle thoughts. One of pop music’s greatest virtues is that it doesn’t have to mean anything. Listening is a way of agreeably passing time, like having fun as a child. Sexsmith’s ambitions seem to be more affable than resolute. However, he’s no simpleton. While he may invoke childhood memories or a fool’s perspective, the songs double back on themselves to reveal insights that were not clear at their beginnings.

That’s why some of the best cuts here begin with reminiscences; eating breakfast as a kid, a treehouse with a sign that says ‘no girls aloud’, picking boysenberries, and such. This allows Sexsmith to paint an untroubled picture that he understands can’t last. Or as he sings, “The only trouble is / we’re going to leave it all behind.” Time changes everything.

“It’s who we are right now that matters,” Sexsmith croons. He acknowledges past mistakes and broken dreams. The fact that he and his lover are still here offers hope. Love can be evergreen if people adapt. “All these changes / will never change us,” he sings with bittersweet optimism.

The pleasures of The Last Rider are subtle. Despite the album’s amiable surfaces, Sexsmith purposely understates the perils of observing and thinking too much. The mellifluous surface hides the roughness underneath. When he sings a “Worried Song”, he begins by suggesting he was distressed in the past. The person to whom he sings has lifted him off his knees and filled his heart. But Sexsmith doesn’t stop there. He asks his lover to join him in harmony so that they can share the blues together. He’s still troubled, but now he’s not alone.

8

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Jefferson Starship Soar Again with 'Mother of the Sun'

Rock goddess Cathy Richardson speaks out about honoring the legacy of Paul Kantner, songwriting with Grace Slick for the Jefferson Starship's new album, and rocking the vote to dump Trump.

Books

Black Diamond Queens: African American Women and Rock and Roll (excerpt)

Ikette Claudia Lennear, rumored to be the inspiration for Mick Jagger's "Brown Sugar", often felt disconnect between her identity as an African American woman and her engagement with rock. Enjoy this excerpt of cultural anthropologist Maureen Mahon's Black Diamond Queens, courtesy of Duke University Press.

Maureen Mahon
Music

Ane Brun's 'After the Great Storm' Features Some of Her Best Songs

The irresolution and unease that pervade Ane Brun's After the Great Storm perfectly mirror the anxiety and social isolation that have engulfed this post-pandemic era.

Music

'Long Hot Summers' Is a Lavish, Long-Overdue Boxed Set from the Style Council

Paul Weller's misunderstood, underappreciated '80s soul-pop outfit the Style Council are the subject of a multi-disc collection that's perfect for the uninitiated and a great nostalgia trip for those who heard it all the first time.

Music

ABBA's 'Super Trouper' at 40

ABBA's winning – if slightly uneven – seventh album Super Trouper is reissued on 45rpm vinyl for its birthday.

Music

The Mountain Goats Find New Sonic Inspiration on 'Getting Into Knives'

John Darnielle explores new sounds on his 19th studio album as the Mountain Goats—and creates his best record in years with Getting Into Knives.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 60-41

PopMatters' coverage of the 2000s' best recordings continues with selections spanning Swedish progressive metal to minimalist electrosoul.

Books

Is Carl Neville's 'Eminent Domain' Worth the Effort?

In Carl Neville's latest novel, Eminent Domain, he creates complexities and then shatters them into tiny narrative bits arrayed along a non-linear timeline.

Film

Horrors in the Closet: Horrifying Heteronormative Scapegoating

The artificial connection between homosexuality and communism created the popular myth of evil and undetectable gay subversives living inside 1950s American society. Film both reflected and refracted the homophobia.

Music

Johnny Nash Refused to Remember His Place

Johnny Nash, part rock era crooner, part Motown, and part reggae, was too polite for the more militant wing of the Civil Rights movement, but he also suffered at the hands of a racist music industry that wouldn't market him as a Black heartthrob. Through it all he was himself, as he continuously refused to "remember his place".

Music

John Hollenbeck Completes a Trilogy with 'Songs You Like a Lot'

The third (and final?) collaboration between a brilliant jazz composer/arranger, the Frankfurt Radio Big Band, vocalists Kate McGarry and Theo Bleckman, and the post-1950 American pop song. So great that it shivers with joy.

Music

The Return of the Rentals After Six Years Away

The Rentals release a space-themed album, Q36, with one absolute gem of a song.

Music

Matthew Murphy's Post-Wombats Project Sounds a Lot Like the Wombats (And It's a Good Thing)

While UK anxiety-pop auteurs the Wombats are currently hibernating, frontman Matthew "Murph" Murphy goes it alone with a new band, a mess of deprecating new earworms, and revived energy.

Music

The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 80-61

In this next segment of PopMatters' look back on the music of the 2000s, we examine works by British electronic pioneers, Americana legends, and Armenian metal provocateurs.

Music

In the Tempest's Eye: An Interview with Surfer Blood

Surfer Blood's 2010 debut put them on the map, but their critical sizzle soon faded. After a 2017 comeback of sorts, the group's new record finds them expanding their sonic by revisiting their hometown with a surprising degree of reverence.

Music

Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.

Books

Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.

Music

'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.