Ron Sexsmith, having never been to Cranbrook before, told the assembled he’d been wondering if anyone at all would show up to his Monday night concert at the Key City Theatre.
But more than 300 turned out to hear the famously under-recognized singer-songwriter, widely considered one of Canada’s best, and one of Canada’s greatest exporters of songs, in fact.
Sexsmith brought a charming low-key stage personality and a smoking hot band, to run through a set of songs encompassing his 25-year career.
But it was not overly introspective — it almost had the feeling of a revival. Sexsmith was backed by a group of prominent Toronto-area musicians: David Matheson on piano and keys, Jason Mercer on bass, Tim Bovaconti on guitar and Don Kerr on drums, the latter with whom Sexsmith has collaborated extensively. As well as presenting tight, intriguing musicianship, each member of the band also sang backup vocals, creating a harmonic wall of sound behind Sexsmith’s leads.
Kerr came forward at one point to duet with Sexsmith on the Louvin Brothers’ song “You’re Learning,” as befits a 1950s sensibility that’s hidden not too deeply in Sexsmith’s writing.
He also took a solo turn on the piano, playing “Secret Heart” — a song which has been covered by Rod Stewart, Nick Lowe and Feist — and “Autumn Light,” which he wrote in tandem with famed British lyricist Don Black. Sexsmith’s kind of songs may not be at the top of the pops these days (although he did talk about his recent considerable success in the U.K., including headlining at the Royal Albert Hall). His songs are melodically complex, with deceptively simple lyrics touching on immediate aspects of the human condition, shot through with hints of optimism and melancholy.
Sexsmith looks back on his dog days, his relationships, his roads gone wrong and how he’s righted himself, time and again. We can see ourselves in his lyrics. Songs like “Sneak out the Back Door,” “Hard Bargain” (recently covered by Emmylou Harris), or “Snake Road” look back on life’s mistakes, pitfalls and regrets. But “Deepens With Time,” “Long Player Late Bloomer” or “God Loves Everyone” gives us the sense he feels his life and the world he lives in is moving towards an ultimate good.
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Opening up for Sexsmith was rising star Jenn Grant, along with her musician husband Daniel Ledwell. Grant accompanied her bell-clear voice with moody minimalist country sound, appropriate for songs like “Dreamer” (the theme song from “Heartland”), “The Fighter” and “Wild Animal.”
Grant came back on stage towards the evening’s end to sing “Brandy Alexander” with Sexsmith, a song covered by Leslie Feist.
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The Ron Sexsmith/Jenn Grant show was the second in the Key City Theatre’s 2013/14 season. Up next is Connie Caldor, Oct. 22.