Ron Sexsmith Is Blue-Sky Thinking on the Buoyant 'The Vivian Line'

BY Daniel SylvesterPublished Feb 14, 2023

Ron Sexsmith's career seemed charmed from day one. When the lead-off track of your Daniel Lanois-assisted, Elvis Costello-adoring major label debut is as flawless and skilled as "Secret Heart," there's simply no room for a rags-to-riches backstory. That's why it's no surprise that on his 17th full length, Sexsmith lives up to the "Teflon Ron" nickname that was just invented for him mere seconds ago. 

Across 12 buoyant tracks and 32 effervescent minutes, the songwriter's latest includes about as much conflict and anguish as an episode of Ted Lasso. Named after the pristine county road located near his Stratford home and written, performed, and co-produced by Sexsmith himself, The Vivian Line comes off practically as a concept album about the power of resilience, redemption, and positive thinking.

The contemplative "A Place Called Love" acts as the album's proper lede, as Sexsmith coos, "Somewhere in the darkest night… there's a place called love." This shimmering opener sets the musical mood as well, illuminating the atmosphere with a harmonic gathering of half a dozen instruments in just over two and a half minutes.

Recorded in Nashville with Brad Jones (Sexsmith's bassist in the late '90s), Sexsmith seems to match his vibe with an almost baroque unfolding of arrangements, highlighted by the romantic intertwining of acoustic guitar, violin, and wordless background vocals on "Outdated and Antiquated" which features a meek boast in "They don't make 'em like me anymore." The orchestral swells that consume "Country Mile" find Sexsmith continuing the optimism with "T'would make me smile, and we'll gather forever in a country mile." But even when he grapples with themes of mortality, as he does sparingly across the LP, Sexsmith seems to couple these sentiments with unwavering hope, as the swelling and glistening "Flower Boxes" displays — "For the living must go on. Even though you're gone." 

Adorned with earthy imagery across almost every track — and highlighted by the groovy "One Bird Calling" and the livestock sampling "A Barn Conversation" — The Vivian Line is a love letter to his rural homestead and the loved ones with whom he shares it. Summing up his breezy M.O. on the bluegrass album standout, "What I Had in Mind" ("I could never see the relevance or the intelligence of preaching gloom and doom"), Sexsmith expertly proves that profound emotion and perception don't have to emanate from sorrow. Sometimes all you need is appreciation, hope, and the sounds of clucking hens.

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