Co-producing with longtime collaborator and drummer Don Kerr, Canadian songman Ron Sexsmith turns in a richly detailed set on his 13th effort, The Last Rider. Sexsmith's distinctive brand of nuanced guitar pop has, on the surface, changed little over his quarter century of musical output, making each release feel almost like a new chapter in one ongoing narrative. Throughout the years, various producers have shaped and refined certain elements of his approach, but his overall consistency as a melodic tunesmith and everyman poet is remarkable, especially given how prolific he's remained. The amiable quality of his lyrics and his enduring melodicism are in full effect on The Last Rider, which is notable in the Sexsmith canon for being the first record to employ his long-tenured touring band, a whip-smart quartet of tone-savvy sidemen who for many years have faithfully adapted the minute details of his many releases for the stage. While standouts like "West Gwillimbury," "Dead End Dream," and "Radio" might well have reached their potential with veteran session players, the added familiarity and creative candor in his own band's performances give an added freshness to these recordings. A myriad of strings, muted brass sections, and synths tastefully decorate the landscape of interlocking guitar parts, exploring the gaps and corners yet always in service of the song. As a production team, Sexsmith and Kerr aren't necessarily prone to wild flights of fancy, yet it's apparent they're having fun and stretching out a bit in their explorations. Likewise, the bandmembers, after years of playing together, know exactly what to do with a Ron Sexsmith pop song, and they bring highlights like "Our Way" and "Evergreen" to life with arrangements that are cleverly layered without ever being fussy. The songs themselves fall easily into the wide lineage of Sexsmith's career, warmly exploring themes of love, hope, loneliness, and the passage of time in his patented tone that falls somewhere between empathetic and downtrodden. A lengthy 15-track release, The Last Rider wraps up with "Man at the Gate (1913)," a sepia-toned portrait plucked from a faded postcard that is one of his prettiest songs in years.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger