Friday, May 28, 2010

CD Odyssey Disc 130: Jimmy Rankin

Mark Knopfler's reign of terror is over! Finally - after two reviews of Knopfler, preceded by two reviews referencing Mark Knopfler - this review does not feature Mark Knopfler in any way!

Wait a minute...

Disc 130 is...Handmade
Artist: Jimmy Rankin

Year of Release: 2003

What’s Up With The Cover?: Jimmy Rankin is dressed up in a suit and top hat. I think it is supposed to look old-school, but Jimmy's face looks a little too...plastic. His pose is just a little too...artificial. I have therefore come to the only logically plausible conclusion - Jimmy has been replaced in this photo shoot by a terminator. Where's a plasma rifle in 40 watt range when you need one?

How I Came To Know It: I was a fan of the Rankin Family throughout their career. Jimmy is just one of them branching out on a solo career. I liked his first album, "Song Dog" so I stuck with him for his sophomore effort, "Handmade".

How It Stacks Up: So far Jimmy's put out three solo albums that I know of. Of the three, "Handmade" is the best.

Rating: 4 stars.

As I noted above, Jimmy Rankin is a former member of the Cape Breton folk group - the Rankin Family. As you may know, the Rankins were five siblings (three sisters, two brothers). Of them all, I think Jimmy is the most talented, and I'm glad he went on to do solo work. In fact, his solo work benefits from branching out from the very straightlaced old-school folk sounds of the Rankins, and into more interesting arrangements, and original material.

I really love this record, and when the Odyssey isn't dictating my playlist, I put it on often. In fact, I had it on just a couple weeks ago on a Tuesday night.

I love how it gets back to basics. All acoustic instruments, simple arrangements, and great songwriting. In fact, when this came out I remember seeing a program on its recording, and how they tried to emulate the old school "Sun" recording sessions. Basically, doing the takes for all the instruments simultaneously live off the floor. The album sounds great, which speaks highly of the musicianship of those involved.

This raw, 'live off the floor' sound hits most sweetly on the opening song, "Morning Bound Train". This track sounds so timeless it could've been recorded by Johnny Cash at Sun Records 50 years earlier.

Because the songs are stripped down, Jimmy's voice can really shine - and it does. I think coming out of a band known for its female harmonies, he hasn't always received his due, but this dude can really sing.

So many tracks stand out on this record. My favourite has got to be "Colorado" which is a bittersweet break up song. I'd quote some lyrics, but without Jimmy's mournful, powerful voice it wouldn't do it justice. I'll just say it always hits me emotionally, and more often than not has me warbling along in my own broken voice.

I will note that this song features someone taking old love letters down off a shelf and nostalgiacally going through them. This always reminds me of the song "Box Full of Letters", off the Wilco album, "A.M.", which I reviewed back at Disc 84. Throw in Alice Cooper writing to his wife from the insane asylum on "From The Inside" and you've got the early makings of a mixed tape.

The title track, "Handmade" also has great appeal for me. This is a song that hits on themes of authenticity. Jimmy is certainly talking about music, but he also brings in all kinds of issues relating to consumerism, and the fashion industry and a host of other things that need to be stripped down and reinvented.

"Have we lost our style in the face of fashion?
Have we lost the need and the will to care?
Something's gone, nobody's asking,
Seems the more I look, it's nowhere.

"Give me something that is real
Give me something I can taste
Show me someone who can feel
I'm sick and tired of this place
But everybody must get paid
Give me something handmade."

The song makes you despair a little for the world, but then you realize that Jimmy hasn't just asked for something real. He's delivered it on this album.

Sheila and I actually saw Jimmy live on this album's tour, in 2004. He was playing a small theatre at Camosun College - maybe 150 people tops. I was struck by how small a man he was - maybe 5'6" and thin. His big acoustic guitar almost dragged him around the stage, but sounded great all the same. And that same voice filled that hall with room to spare. He is a great live act, but you shouldn't necessarily wait for him to come to town - just go buy this album.

Best tracks: Morning Bound Train, Stay, Handmade, Colorado, Sweet Wheels, Running Home (this last one has that annoying extra bonus track appended to it as part of the same track listing - but since both tracks are good, it is worth a listen anyway).

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