A deeply personal record, Ron Sexsmith’s Forever Endeavour is a cutely titled examination of what happens when an extremely gifted songwriter turns things inward in an almost overpowering fashion. The Ontario-born folk/pop/whatever artist has been inside before, but he has seldom cut things this close to the bone.
The reason for this appears to come in the form of a health scare in the summer of 2011.
“In the middle of a tour last year, they detected a lump in my throat, and I had an MRI and the ultrasound,” Sexsmith reveals. “And in the middle of recording this album, I had a CAT scan to see if everything was okay. So I had this period of a few months where I was freaking out about everything, and that probably explains why some of the songs are so philosophical. It was like, ‘Either next year I’m going to be battling something or this is the last record I’m going to make.’”
The possibility of crafting the last record in a storied but understated career would be enough to send even the calmest of minds into fits, but Forever Endeavour reveals not a leave-taking into madness but a tumble into thought, memory and affection.
What we have with this record is a series of confrontations, in a way, and a series of possible confessions. Sexsmith, who is to the best of my knowledge free of any health complications at the moment (it was a benign tumor), delivers an album that springs out of moments of wondering if and wondering why.
“Nowhere to Go” leads things with beautiful horns and lyrics about sticking around “when there’s nowhere to go but down.” This tune came directly after the Long Player Late Bloomer sessions in the emotional exhaust of not knowing whether that 2011 record was going to see release at all. The strings are rendered by the lovely Calder Quartet out of Los Angeles.
“Snake Road” boots thing in another direction and may well be one of the hippest tunes Sexsmith has ever penned. There are sure Beatles influences at play — even Sexsmith says he wishes he had a voice more like John Lennon’s for this one — and the track tears through a funky trip with horn accents and a surprising dose of good old-fashioned soul.
Sexsmith returns to his wheelhouse with pieces like the dreamy “Lost in Thought” and the solo “Sneak Out the Back Door.” And “This Morning Light,” Forever Endeavour’s closing song, pulls together with a lush, enveloping arrangement.
Culled from a period where Sexsmith was “freaking out about everything,” this is a warm and honest piece of work from one of Canada’s most understated, underrated songwriters. For all the personal turmoil, he’s never sounded more confident and his songwriting has never been more eloquent. This Forever Endeavour is one of those pesky statement records, an album of importance, poetry and, best of all, life.