The Canadian Songbook: Ron Sexsmith Massey Hall, Toronto ON June 15

The Canadian Songbook: Ron Sexsmith Massey Hall, Toronto ON June 15
When Ron Sexsmith first headlined historic Massey Hall a few years back, it fulfilled a long-held dream. Admiring local peers turned out in droves, making for a magical night. That experience was repeated here, only this time it was those peers, not Sexsmith, performing onstage. He was a worthy recipient of the homage paid by Luminato's Canadian Songbook tribute, and the star-studded cast did his always eloquent songs real justice.

The evening began with a film clip from Daniel Lanois, who contributed a sweet version of "There's a Rhythm," the tune Lanois produced on Sexsmith's self-titled 1995 CD. Other filmed tributes to Sexsmith came from Ray Davies and, intriguingly, English film director Richard Curtis (Four Weddings and a Funeral). The one disappointment was the cancellation of opera star Measha Brueggergosman, the only real musical wild card. Surprise guest Holly Cole was a fine replacement, delivering a vibrant and full-blooded version of "Secret Heart," Sexsmith's most covered song.

Another surprise performer was Ron's wife, Colleen Hixenbaugh, contributing a sweet take on "Wasting Time." The tribute proved the malleability of Sexsmith songs. Rather than trying to imitate the creator's approach, each artist moulded the song to their own style. Close Sexsmith pal Andy Kim put a dramatic pop spin on "This Song," aided by harmonies from Ladies of the Canyon; Kevin Drew added a slight Broken Social Scene vibe to "Lebanon Tennessee"; Barenaked Ladies charmed with their melodic take on "Strawberry Blonde"; and Tomi Swick rocked out on "Hands of Time." Country-styled duets from Greg Keelor and Julie Fader, then Matthew Barber and Oh Susanna ("Words We Never Use" and "Gold in Them Hills," respectively) were very effective, and Justin Hines shone on newer tune "Up the Road."

Spoken word artist Shane Koyczan mixed things up with his own witty tribute to Sexsmith's work. Garth Hudson added accordion on one song, while Gordon Lightfoot was in the audience, confirming Sexsmith's appeal to his musical elders. Making strong contributions throughout was a house band comprising longtime Sexsmith accompanists Kurt Swinghammer, Tim Bovaconti, Don Kerr, David Matheson and Jason Mercer, plus Blake Manning and Kevin Hearn, the night's skilled musical director.

A very special night was capped with the entrance of Sexsmith himself, to a standing ovation. His versions of "Get in Line" and "Tell You" proved that the best singer of his songs remains the man himself, and he was then joined by the entire cast for a fitting finale choice, "Love Shines." Sexsmith may occasionally express frustration that he doesn't score more radio play, but this demonstration of genuine love, not just respect, from his peers is surely more valuable than a higher Billboard chart number.