The laidback storyteller's 'lullabies for grown-ups' hit the spot
It’s been seven long years since Ron Sexsmith last played Belfast, but he’s barely aged a day. Now 47, with two marriages and two kids under his belt, his cherubic features and the melodic charm of his songwriting belie an underlying disillusionment and darkness. (The Canadian Ray Davies, anyone?)
He’s been in the business for over 20 years, and while he’s been hailed by a catalogue of songwriting greats – Dylan, Costello, and McCartney among them – the consistent quality of his songs hasn’t been reflected in radio play or record sales. Hence the typically wry title of his latest album Long Player, Late Bloomer, from which much of tonight’s wonderful set comes.
Why the love, both from the greats and in the punters in the room tonight? Well, Costello calls it his insight into the human heart and a melodic purity. Like Aimee Mann, Teddy Thompson and Rufus Wainwright, Sexsmith writes story songs that nail the feelings we’ve all felt, hooks them up with killer melodies and delivers them in a voice of incredible purity. Simple, really.
Looking trimmer than usual in a teddy boy suit and frilly shirt amongst the bizarre camouflage net and glitter ball decor of the Spring and Airbrake, Sexsmith is in good form. Introducing 'Hard Bargain', he praises Emmy Lou Harris’ recent cover and, paying tribute to a fellow crooner, mentions another song written with Bing Crosby in mind.
He’s got a way with words ('In every nowhere town, there are somewhere dreams' from 'Love Shines') and mixes up 'Brandy Alexander' (his favourite cocktail, co-written with fellow underrated Canadian, Leslie Feist) as expertly as any barman.
While the quality and musicianship are effortless, you could say that there’s not a lot of variety in the set. As the band take a break he tells the audience ‘we’re going to go a bit mellow now – not that we’ve been rocking out so far!’
At his best, though, Ron Sexsmith delivers lullabies for grown-ups – and when the world is in such a parlous state, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.