Published Jan 01, 2006Ron Sexsmith's new beginnings echo his start in Toronto's songwriter community over 12 years ago. His fifth album Blue Boy, recorded last June with producer Steve Earle, is only now seeing the light of day after lengthy label wrangling. In the meantime, Sexsmith re-released his long out-of-print 1991 debut Grand Opera Lane. For those only familiar with the ornate trilogy of albums Sexsmith recorded with Mitchell Froom, both his debut and Blue Boy break the ballad mode that Froom dwelled on.
"It occurred to me that these records are long-lost cousins," he says. "Grand Opera Lane is a happy record. It was made when I first moved to Toronto and every song is about trying to get off the ground, and it's very optimistic. This album is more rock'n'roll like that one, but it's heavier and darker. Both were made very fast. On the last record we spend all this time working out strings and horns, and this time it was nice to do something more freewheelin'."
Blue Boy features Sexsmith's longtime live compadre Don Kerr on drums, who had been left behind on the Froom albums. "Don has so much character in his drumming and everything," says Sexsmith. "Steve was blown away by Don, and I think he really nailed it. Everyone in the studio was saying, Where'd you find this guy?'"
And in another flashback sequence, Sexsmith covers "Thumbelina Farewell," by his old friend Kyp Harness. "It's one of those songs I wish I could have written myself," he says. "I also thought it fit into the theme of the record, and I hoped that I could turn people on to Kyp the same way Elvis Costello did with me. Already it's working; every interview I've done, people ask me who this Kyp Harness guy is."
Sexsmith himself was covered recently by German soprano Anne Sofie Von Otter, on an album produced by Sexsmith's constant champion Elvis Costello. "I was on an airplane flying from Hong Kong to London a couple of weeks ago; I was flicking through the radio channels and I heard the intro. I thought, I know that song!' Then she started singing it and I was so excited and on airplanes, the program keeps repeating, so I heard it seven or eight times. It sounds clichéd, but your songs are your babies in a way, so when you hear someone else singing it, you're kind of rooting for the song: Don't fall apart on me!'"