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The Vivian Line (Cooking Vinyl)

IT IS A FIRST WORLD PROBLEM among first world problems, so I do not expect sympathy. Nonetheless, here is the solution: Ron Sexsmith needs to fail more.

He needs to release more, or at least one, dud album. He needs to hit a trough in his writing, make some wildly misjudged production choices, or devise an album concept too obscure and unsatisfying for your regular record buyer. Look, I’d even take some public controversy over one of his signature punning tweets.

Something. Anything.

Just so that following such a mistake/failure people like me who have run out of ways to say this is yet another really good Ron Sexsmith album, full of quality songs, engaging singing and sensitive insights, can write the redemption story, cite this record as “a return to form”, and tell people, yes you remember Ron Sexsmith, well here is a record to remind you of all the reasons you loved him then and why you might love him again.

Because here is that problem: The Vivian Line, an album that canvasses happiness, death, memory, escape and an ordinary day bringing satisfaction, is another really, really good Ron Sexsmith album. An album whose only weakness – unless you have a problem with occasional references to some or other deity – may be the size of the font used for the lyrics.

There is a song called Diamond Wave, with a melody made up of equal parts dappled sunshine and summer wine, that sends a finger-picked acoustic guitar line dancing across its rhythm guitar chords, briefly brings in some smooth backing vocals to stand behind its warm-in-the-ear lead voice, and captures balanced hope/faith with lines like “You know the sun was hiding under heavy cloud/There was no one guiding us for miles/But any doubts and second thoughts are gone … Take a look at me now/I’m feeling good/All I know is somehow/I’m feeling better than I thought I could”, that elevate your mood along with his.

Another, This, That And The Other Thing, has the neat suit and creamy moves of ‘70s soul worn over the old t-shirt and close quarters charm of Laurel Canyon, the organ leaning east, the voice leaning west, and the flute with a foot in either camp, while What I Had In Mind – jangle, city bucolic tempo, and making “shades of grey in these November skies” sound inviting – relocates Ray Davies from north London to southwest Ontario.

Meanwhile the album opens with Place Called Love a tender, comforting ballad that is as timeless as the modestly presented strings, and closes with a clip-clopping, harmonica-soloing, backing vocal-oohing little charmer called Ever Wonder that might have been pulled from a Bing Crosby and Bob Hope/second on the Saturday matinee bill/everybody goes home smiling, film.

If it’s true, as Sexsmith claims in one of the albums prettiest moments, that “outdated and antiquated, I belong in the past”, it’s a past that hasn’t yet passed. Not while he keeps making albums that show everything you might have said in the past and everything you may say in the future add up to the same thing: Ron Sexsmith’s made another record that brings nothing but joy.


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