Ron Sexsmith Cobblestone Runway

Its title inspired by a rough landing at Heathrow Airport, Cobblestone Runway is Ron Sexsmith's best album since his 1995 self-titled breakthrough CD. It also happens to be more akin to his critically celebrated sophomore effort than any of his three interim releases. Perhaps contrarily though, this latest offering (his sixth) features the most contemporary production ever enjoyed by its creator, compliments of Swedish studio wiz Martin Terefe. Indeed, Terefe deserves more than mere credit as producer here. Most of these 13 songs began as demo tracks laid down last year during a five-day break in London. With Sexsmith's blessing, Terefe went about building the songs up around the artist's particularly strong vocal performances and guitar work. The tapes made their way to Nashville, where some strings and at least one gospel choir were tracked and added. Later, in Los Angeles, Coldplay vocalist (and Sexsmith devotee) Chris Martin insisted on contributing some vocals, which were mixed down into an alternate duet version of the song "Gold In Them Hills." For Sexsmith's part, these are some of his strongest and most focused compositions ever. Though his catalogue is already rife with vague images and notions of faith, Sexsmith gets downright blatant here in terms of spirituality. On "God Loves Everyone," for instance, he reveals his god is non-judgmental and endlessly tolerant of all races and sexual orientations. The disc's most stylistically bold moment comes with "Dragonfly On Bay Street," wherein our hero revisits his days as a courier in the heart of downtown Toronto and the insect omen that foretold his decision to leave the towers of commerce behind in favour of a career in music. Terefe's magic, however, has transformed the otherwise campfire number into funky dance-floor fare. Meanwhile, the song "Up The Road" cleverly incorporates pops and hisses, the likes of which you might hear as your radio tuner goes slightly off station. (Linus)