Whenever I am asked why I got into Canadian folk-roots music, and who I first discovered in this genre, Nova Scotia’s The Rankin Family are definitely one of the first bands that spring to mind. Seeing some of their nineties music videos aired in the UK, I would have the opportunity to catch the band perform locally during their tour, and truly enjoyed their traditional Cape Breton sounds. With the personal tragedies that this family would later suffer, it would be almost a decade later when I rediscovered Jimmy Rankin making waves as a bona-fide solo artist in his own right. Catching up with his solo works, while I found the music enjoyable, it didn’t have the lasting impression that I experienced with his Rankin Family material. Not, at least, until now.
Releasing his latest “Moving East” album just a few weeks ago, Jimmy Rankin has returned to his musical roots. Having spent time living in Nashville, maybe it was the commercial necessities imposed by Music City that diluted his distinct sound. But as the title of this new album suggests, Rankin has uprooted himself from this seven year residence in central Tennessee, and returned home to Nova Scotia. With fellow Nova Scotian Joel Plaskett entrusted as his producer, “Moving East” is the perfect homecoming album for Jimmy Rankin. Both a natural storyteller and gifted songwriter, Rankin serves up eleven new tracks that harness his Maritimes heritage and allow him to once again be at his authentic best.
“Loving You Never Gets Old” is the opening track, which whisks you away immediately to the Canadian east coast with its positive and upbeat tempo. While some of the Nashville influences can be detected here, once we move on to “No More I’ll Go Roving,” Rankin slows things down, and incorporates some gentle banjo into the mix to remind you of this rediscovery of his hometown roots. Traditional instruments appear frequently to reinforce the Cape Breton sound, from the Gaelic inspired guitar and banjo accompaniment to “The Rawleigh Man,” to the seemingly biographical “Been Away,” which clearly respects those country influences, but sees him much more at home amongst his Nova Scotia family and friends. Joel Plaskett’s influence is most evident during “Thin Ice,” with the melodic pace and deliberate emphasis upon the vocal delivery; and can be found again in the slow, atmospheric and somewhat angry tones of “These Roads.”
Jimmy is not afraid to push his boundaries here with this album. Go ahead and enjoy the slow, bluesy feel on “Down at the Shore,” which is perfectly complemented by some well timed rolling of the piano keys. Looking for something with a little more bar-room vibe, then skip to “Haul Away the Whale,” where a simple (but effective) drum beat dictates the pace of this great shanty. For those seeking the return to his traditional sound, fear not; “Turn That Boat Around” will whisk you back to the Rankin Family days, while “Cape Breton Fiddle” offers a great foot-tapping instrumental number to not only close the album, but to offer that firm reminder that Rankin is indeed back on his native soil. Saving what I feel to be the best until last, “Highlander” will appeal to all fans of the Celtic music genre. Rankin is clearly having fun with this one, offering some gruff and raw vocals to transport you on a journey with this fictitious Scottish protagonist. Having recently attended a Celtic music festival, not only do the traditional guitar licks remind me of that exposure, but the addition of some Scottish pipes down the stretch prove not only a fitting touch, but were also the catalyst to have me hitting the repeat button on several occasions.
Per Eric Alper, “Jimmy Rankin’s new Moving East is pure East Coast, a homecoming album featuring true stories, tall tales and bittersweet ballads,” and I could not agree more. The return to a Maritimes culture, and the visionary production skills from Plaskett, have allowed Rankin to truly embrace and immerse himself once again in his musical heritage. The result is a fine collection of genuine and pure East Coast music from one of Canada’s finest and most revered traditional performing pioneers. For those of you like me, whose music tastes found great listening pleasures with the music of The Rankin Family, Jimmy’s “Moving East” album may very well prove to be a worthwhile addition to your collection. Recommended listening.