Friday, June 05, 2015

Ron Sexsmith celebrates art of songwriting at The Coach House

Ron Sexsmith led his four-member band through a stellar 90-minute set of original music at The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, CA on June 4, 2015. Photo credit: Bob Steshetz
Few songwriters have earned the level of well-deserved praise afforded Ron Sexsmith even while continuing to work mostly under the radar. Though the multi-Juno Award winner has earned notice from the celebrated likes of Elvis Costello, Elton John and Paul McCartney since releasing his solo debut album in 1995, the Canadian tunesmith has continued to perform at relatively small and intimate venues in the U.S.

On Thursday, June 4, 2015, Sexsmith made a much-anticipated return to The Coach House in San Juan Capistrano, CA, a venue ideally suited to his song-centered approach. With discerning concertgoers seated near the stage, Sexsmith and an outstanding four-man backing band dug into one of modern music's richest songbooks for a set boasting two dozen original selections that inexorably showcased his marvelous songcraft.
Ron Sexsmith sharing stories.
Photo credit: Bob Steshetz

Chief among the songs played in Orange County was material off Sexsmith's latest album, 2015's Carousel One. The disc finds Sexsmith in a surprisingly-cheerful mood and that optimistic tone played out at The Coach House too. The St. Catharines, Ontario native often using self-deprecating humor to enliven the songs with witty spoken introductions. 

Among the buoyant songs from Carousel One delivered at The Coach House was "Before the Light is Gone" (a song he explained is about his songwriting method) and the blues-tinged "Getaway Car" offered early in his 90-minute set, while the infectious "Saint Bernard" and reworked "Lucky Penny" (with its big choruses) came later. "Saint Bernard" in particular was a delight, with the live version a loose and rollicking take that had every member of Sexsmith's band singing along.

With 2015 marking the 20th anniversary of his self-titled debut album, Sexsmith introduced "There's a Rhythm" with one of his many revealing quips: "I thought there might be a parade or something. I was 31 when that came out; now I'm 51; it doesn't seem right." 

Having released more than a dozen studio albums since his debut, Sexsmith had plenty to choose from this night. Among the chief rewards  that came in the first half of his set was the shimmering "All in Good Time," a nuanced acoustic-guitar powered "Strawberry Blonde" and the melodic pop gem "Imaginary Friends."

A version of "Can't Get My Act Together," another potent cut off Carousel One, really achieved a Bruce Springsteen-worthy muscle thanks to the addition of some powerful piano playing from David Matheson supporting Sexsmith's lead vocals.
Ron Sexsmith at the piano.
Photo credit: Bob Steshetz

About midway through the concert, Sexsmith put down his Taylor acoustic guitar and performed alone at a grand piano. Among the standouts during this mini-set was a gorgeous rendition of "Tomorrow in Her Eyes" and upbeat "Brandy Alexander."

The last part of the night saw Sexsmith continuing to explore his catalog with a Americana folk take on "Lebanon, Tennessee" (another sterling song from his debut), a beautiful acoustic reading of "Gold In Them Hills" and beautiful baroque Beatlesque "Sure As The Sky" that was one of my favorite new songs performed.

Sexsmith closed out his fast-moving concert with the introspective "Deepens With Time," an elegant and beautiful song that proved how magically the artist can fuse songwriting and performance in the most intimate of settings. 

Review by Robert Kinsler

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