Ron Sexsmith

There’s A RhythmRon Sexsmith (1995)
Keep It In MindBlue Boy (2001)
Nothing GoodOther Songs (1997)
Traveling AloneExit Strategy Of The Soul (2008)
Deepens With TimeForever Endeavour (2013)
Can’t Get My Act Together Carousel One (2015)
Lo And BeholdHermitage (2020)
Never Give UpTime Being (2006)
A Kiss For LuckRarities (2003)
Right About NowWhereabouts (1999)

Ron Sexsmith photo 1
Ron Sexsmith promo photo: John Painter



Ron Sexsmith playlist


Contributor: Rob Jones

When you hear a Ron Sexsmith melody from any one of his albums, the aural finish you experience after savouring it is this: of course. Of course that song exists. How could it not exist before? Choosing ten of his best songs is both easy and difficult. It’s difficult because one is spoiled for choice. It’s easy because one could choose any ten of them and make an argument that they’re essential listening to anyone who can appreciate a singer-songwriter’s craft.

So, possibly against the rules of Toppermost, I’ve done just that; collected a randomly chosen sample of ten Sexsmith songs across his discography. The great thing is that the list actually turned out to be very representative of his work and serves as a nice little playlist all around for newcomers and long-time fans alike. So, let’s dive right in.

Presented in two different versions, There’s A Rhythm is both the second song and the final song on Sexsmith’s Mitchell Froom-produced 1995 self-titled debut. The latter one that’s more echoey and spacious is produced by Daniel Lanois and is embedded here. On both versions, Sexsmith sings a lonely song of togetherness, suggesting the mysterious burden of existence itself. Like most of his tunes, the gravity of his subject always contains the lightness of hope amid currents of beautiful melancholy.


In working with new producers Steve Earle and Ray Kennedy on the Blue Boy album, Ron Sexsmith offered his most stylistically varied record yet. Keep It In Mind finds him leaning into a languid groove complete with a tick-tocking cowbell. The aural happiness of its Brian Wilsoneque pop matched with country-rock jangle belies lyrics of lost love and disconnection. The titular phrase is usually suggestive of the speaker’s opposite intention. Here, it’s to be taken at face value as the song’s narrator struggles with the grave consequences out of actions which were in part of his own making.


A wonderful slab of Byrdsian electric folk, Nothing Good sounds like it’s been around for at least as long as they have. Full of sparkling Sixties 12-string glory, the contrasting tale is deeply tragic, but notably not in an affected way. It’s an honest examination of shortsightedness to which we are all prone, making it as relatable as any song about love’s treasures and temptation’s pitfalls. Musically, it shimmers with poptastic charm as a hit single that somehow never was.


One song in a career-long exploration of existential questions, Traveling Alone picks up where There’s A Rhythm started. This one concerns the same dynamics of being “in this together”, and yet also on our own somehow, too. The music is warm and restful in a tune about living a life of quiet desperation, realising that those sharing the train with us are doing the exact same thing. In hearing it, one can’t help but consider Sexsmith’s suggestion that these states of being should lead us to greater empathy and kindness rather than fear and dread.


Ron Sexsmith’s ability to write songs about the small things that really matter in one’s life is something of a specialty. His deftness in doing that while always escaping hackneyed or mawkish sentiments is striking, particularly on Deepens With Time. This cut celebrates the treasures that we take with us on our journeys and that sustain us for all time. In this tune, time’s passage isn’t a march toward the end of a life, but rather one that helps us to define our lives in the present for the better.


With moaning organ, sparkling piano, and sitar-like guitar, Can’t Get My Act Together is an ebullient confession about wanting to be a better person while tripping over the badly placed psychological furniture that clutters up the path to get there. Sexsmith’s lyrics are alive with self-awareness and candour as he sings about how hard it is sometimes to love someone the way they deserve, and how it feels to fall short of delivering the goods. The lyrical fragility balanced against supreme tunefulness is a potent brew.


Full of New Orleans-style accordion, plucked strings, and a playful groove, Ron Sexsmith’s positivity beams out on Lo And Behold, which in part is reflective of his move from metropolitan Toronto to the bucolic country environs of Stratford Ontario. This song certainly reveals his melodic debt to Ray Davies which Sexsmith has been happily paying off in installments ever since his career began, and much to the benefit of us all. This one is a rumination on gratitude and of recognising one’s good fortunes that sometimes feel like miracles to us when we look back on the hard roads we took to get to them.


Poignant love songs entwined with the reality of trials and tribulations are Ron Sexsmith’s stock in trade. Never Give Up is one of these; a dance between acoustic guitar and electric in hushed conversation that accompanies Sexsmith’s tender croon as he sings about love’s connection that liberates him from bad habits. The romance found here does not come at cost to an acknowledgement of human foibles, which only makes the song all the more emotionally resonant.


A Kiss For Luck was a musical orphan that didn’t make it onto the track listing of an official album, which says a lot about Sexsmith’s quality as a songwriter. Its overcast but hopeful of sunshine mood reminds us that loneliness is only temporary as much as everything else is. Dreamy pedal steel accompanied by murmuring electric piano against a countrified waltz make it sound timeless. At the same time, this song removes any doubt as to why music critics consider Ron Sexsmith a throwback to a golden era of singer-songwriters.


With Bill Withers’ influence being of great importance to Ron Sexsmith’s body of work understood, Right About Now is a contented late-night lament of a one who longs for another across too many time zones. It’s couched in comfort even as it is a song about feeling too far away from where one belongs. This track finds Sexsmith stretching out as a singer, incorporating a restrained and tasteful falsetto in places to give voice to love’s promise and the sweet agony of distance from its object.

This is at least in part why Ron Sexsmith’s music appeals to me so much; it feels familiar on a core level. It felt that way even when I first heard it in 1995. Over the course of his now decades-long career as a singer, songwriter, and musician, his songs seem as if they’ve always been around and yet somehow remain new. Maybe this is in part because the themes he focuses on are so resonant; love, existence, the passage of time, past mistakes, and reasons to be hopeful even when the shadows seem like they’re closing in.

That his tales of human foibles and quiet triumphs are carried on melodies that feel as if they were somehow inevitable doesn’t hurt, either. With his songs, you know that you’re going to get them stuck in your head, and that you’ll be more than happy to host them there. You’ll know the stories those songs tell are honest and true; a reflection of the human experience that doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff, but doesn’t dwell on it, either. For want of a better term, you can trust Ron Sexsmith. For an artist, that’s some kind of achievement.



Ron Sexsmith official website

Ron Sexsmith YouTube Channel

Ron Sexsmith 2023 interview on Americana UK

“Love Shines” – 2010 documentary film

20 Great Ron Sexsmith Songs (also by Rob Jones)

Ron Sexsmith biography (AllMusic)

Rob Jones is a music writer and blogger born in Toronto. After living in London, England for a time, he now lives in the Lower Mainland of British Columbia with his partner and their many houseplants. As a child, he followed the familiar path of falling in love with The Beatles and with AM radio hits in the 1970s and into the 1980s. He came into his own as a music fan during the new wave era, then embracing all manner of music into adulthood from 1930s country blues to Big Beat techno, while always feeling at home with indie-rock and singer-songwriter folk as his sonic homebase. He is the primary author and Editor-in-Chief of the music blog The Delete Bin. He has previously written about Martha and the Muffins on Toppermost.

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  1. Andrew Shields
    Dec 30, 2023

    Thanks for this great piece. I really liked Ron’s early albums but started to drift away around the time of ‘Blue Boy’. The later selections here will help me to see what I was missing.
    As this suggests I would probably also have to have songs like ‘Words We Never Use’, ‘Speaking With The Angel’ and ‘Strawberry Blonde’ in my Top Ten.

    • Rob
      Jan 23, 2024

      Apparently, “Speaking with the Angel” is one of his earliest songs. It appeared on his first self-published record pre-debut, *Grand Opera Lane*. He used to perform it at various open stages in Toronto in the early 90s before he got his record deal. One of those venues was Fat Albert’s, a pokey little cellar that I used to go to myself in my starving student days. Unfortunately, I don’t remember seeing Ron play there!
      As for “Strawberry Blonde”, that’s definitely one of my favourites – a little movie inside of three minutes with characters you care about and are invested in the whole way.
      Thanks for reading, and for comments Andrew!

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