On the Runway (4/04/2003)
Ron Sexsmith, Cobblestone Runway (Nettwerk America 2002) - There ought to be a place in the world for songwriters like Ron Sexsmith. Now on his sixth album, the Toronto-based songwriter moves into a fuller production with Cobblestone Runway.
Ron has worked in an introspective, folk vein since his excellent self-titled first album (1995), which was followed by Other Songs (1997). Comments Ron, "The thing that I'm really happy about on this record is that all the songs have good groves and there is more of a pulse to it. And you can almost dance to some of the songs - and that's a first for me."
Ron is correct - "Least That I Can Do" and "For A Moment" have a perkier feel, before Ron slips back to the reflective "God Loves Everyone."
Cobblestone Runway was recorded during seven days in London with producer Martin Terefe (who has also worked with Leona Naess). Explains Ron, "I don't know much about the studio. I don't know what the knobs do and that kind of stuff. I was in the middle of all these Blue Boy dates so I basically told Martin, 'Just do what you do. Go nuts.' I knew I was in good hands."
Ron provides vocals and acoustic guitar, and was joined by a Swedish team of players selected by producer Martin Terefe, including Claes Bjorklund on Fender Rhodes and synthesizers, singer Glen Scott on backing vocals, and Christer Jansson on drums. Terefe contributed bass, synth, backing vocals, and percussion.
The original sessions in London were augmented by later work in Nashville and Malibu, where Terefe added a gospel choir to "Least That I Can Do."
Ron's creative burst came from a period of personal upheaval and romantic dissolution. "There were some pretty significant changes at the time," says the singer. "So after 15 years, I was living on my home. Actually, I ended up moving in with my business manager. The lucky thing was he has a piano in his house."
Ron is a real troubadour, touring almost excessively. The start of 2003 found him touring Europe with Aimee Mann. He just got off a tour opening for Coldplay, which brought them through Phoenix. Says Ron, "The biggest surprise for me came on the last night in Phoenix when Glen Campbell knocked on my dressing room door. I've always been a fan and knowing he was in the audience made us all play better too."
With songs like "Gold in Them Hills" and "Heart's Desire" Ron seeks to paint pictures with his words. Ron has an earnest vocal style, which may not be perfect, but which is highly endearing.
Amy Grant, Legacy: Hymns & Faith (A&M Records 2002) - To mark twenty-five years in the recording industry, star singer Amy Grant collected 20 religious favorites from the past, and recorded them for Hymns & Faith.
The result is a highly likable collection, showing that music in the Christian vein doesn't have to have the word "Jesus" in every other line. Faith can be reflected in the lyrics of "Softly and Tenderly" or "How Great Thou Art," without using heavy-handed tactics.
Of course, it helps that Amy has an ace band. New husband Vince Gill (backing vocals, guitars, and mandolin) is a Nashville stalwart, and enlisted a host of friends, including Chad Cromwell on drums, Leland Sklar on bass, Kenny Greenberg on electric guitar, and Mac McAnnly, Biff Watson, and Richard Bennett on acoustic guitar.
Also appearing are Stuart Duncan for fiddle on "Fields of Plenty/Be Still My Soul" and Alison Kraus for harmony vocal on "Fairest Lord Jesus."
While I would have omitted the Irish-sounding chorus on the concluding, "Marching to Zion," you have to respect Amy's integrity, as she works with a comfortable mix of Americana, folk, bluegrass, and gospel. This is truly an authentic American sound, sometimes harkening back to a 100 years ago, while enlisting a contemporary Nashville studio sound.
Maybe you're not big on Christian music. Yet, "This Is My Father's World" is just good music, with a sweet voice and excellent musicians. Not to be overlooked.
Fania, Sopi (Tinder Records 2002) - Fania is a female singer of Senegalese decent, who made her recording debut with Sopi. A smooth blend of world-pop, the album has familiar instrumentation with unfamiliar languages.
Comments Fania, "Sopi, which means change encapsulates my inner most workings...I had a hard time with what I see around me and in my life, and Sopi came out of the various parts of me that were reacting to all these negative and/or oppressive outer stimuli and how I felt that." Fania adds that she is working on a new album, which "will have the same Afro-pop tinge. Nevertheless, it feels different to me. It is mellower, sweeter, and not as edgy as Sopi."
The sense of textured French pop is best reflected on "Nana," with a swirling rhythm. "Yagou" with vocal assistant from Jamaican Horace Andy has, not surprisingly, a reggae feel. The title track is a plaintive number, with an accordion.
Adds Fania, "I started performing very young. As a child I knew I wanted to be singer and performer. Kids made fun of me for my lofty dreams...I am a woman who is both woman and man, yin and yang. I don't fit in a stereotype or a specific 'box.' I am African - Senegalese and Malian. I am also French, as I have lived in Paris for many years. But most of all I am a citizen of the people, a person following a path...The path of music and expression."
Considering that I don't understand the West African languages, I can't judge the edge. Sopi for me has a polished sound that is familiar to Western ears.
- Randy Krbechek © 2003
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