Tuesday, April 30, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 509: Jimmy Rankin

I began listening to this album on cheap ear buds (I’d left my big headphones at the office over the weekend).  I hadn’t realized how spoiled I was with the good sound of a full set of headphones, but what a difference!  The ear buds have no richness in their sound, and are mostly bass and tinny high notes.  I’m glad that before I did the final review I was able to hear the whole record on a proper sound system, or this review might have gone a lot worse.

Disc 509 is…. Edge of Day
Artist: Jimmy Rankin

Year of Release: 2007

What’s up with the Cover?  Jimmy, playing the guitar down by the…er…fence.  I think he’s near the sea as well.  Having seen Jimmy live I can advise he’s not a tall man, but he can make that guitar sound plenty big.

How I Came To Know It:  I’ve been a fan of Jimmy Rankin since he was in the Rankin Family.  This was just me buying his latest solo album when it came out.

How It Stacks Up:  I have three Jimmy Rankin albums.  I like the other two much more, so I must put this one third.

Rating:  2 stars

Back in 2007 when “Edge of Day” I couldn’t wait to get it home and give it a listen.  I had loved 2003’s “Handmade” (reviewed way back at Disc 130) and had impatiently awaited Jimmy Rankin’s next record ever since.  Unfortunately, I found “Edge of Day” a disappointment then, and six years later it remains merely OK.

I work hard to review every album on the CD Odyssey on its own terms, however, and every album doesn’t have to measure up to an artist’s best.  “Edge of Day” still has its moments and it still features Jimmy Rankin, who I think is one of Canada’s many brilliantly talented contemporary folk singers.

Rankin’s voice is excellent once again, particularly on “Slipping Away.”  The guitar work on this track is also superior, with a full and bluesy groove.  Jimmy hits the falsetto with practice ease as he sings “I heee-aaar you callin’” only to follow with an absent-minded “a thousand light years away.” The two lines are expertly divided by a measure of that bluesy guitar, and the effect of it all together is remarkable.  It puts you in a mood that evokes hot summer days on a porch, cold beer in hand, and not entirely pleasant memories on your mind.  It may always be the same old three or four chords in this kind of music, but that doesn’t make all the songs the same.

I also enjoy “When I Rise” which has that desperate feel that captures the plight of disadvantaged dreamers.  Best lines:

“If I was a pretty girl I wouldn’t be standin’ here
I wouldn’t be all alone - I’d have my way with the world.”


“If I was a rich man, I wouldn’t have to break my back
Wouldn’t have to walk this line – you’d never see me tip my hat.”

This song reminded me of Patty Griffin’s “I Don’t Ever Give Up” thematically and it made me appreciate the stubbornly placed hope people place in blind luck when they’ve got nothing else to hold out for.  It is also interesting how easily we slip into old notions that girls should be pretty and men should be wealthy.  Jimmy draws our attention to long-standing sexual stereotypes and how hard they are to dispel when we foolishly hold ourselves to those standards, outdated as they are.

Another nice side note to “When I Rise” is former “Rankin Family” band mate (and sister) Cookie Rankin providing some pretty harmony on the chorus. 

Unfortunately, these moments on “Edge of Day” are just not frequent enough.  The album has brilliant musicianship, including the talents of slide guitarist Colin Linden, Gordie Sampson on vocals and mandolin, and Jimmy himself.  It is just that the songs have an adult contemporary feel that sucks a lot of the passion out of them.

Also, there was a broken-heartedness that made “Handmade” so deeply evocative that is missing on “Edge of Day.”  I sincerely hope that is because Jimmy was in a happier place when he made the record.  For all that I love a sad song, I wouldn’t wish any sadness on the artist just to make one.  I still wanted something a little deeper though, even if that something was just idle reverie.

Despite the good stuff in “When I Rise” the lyrics on “Edge of Day” are fairly spotty overall.  Jimmy’s voice makes most things sound good but there are some cringe-worthy items.  From “Touched by an Angel”:

“I’ve been touched by an angel, that’s one thing for sure…
I felt the flutter of her wings on my skin.
I fell harder than ever before
From higher than I’ve ever been.”

Overused phrases like “touched by an angel” (and later in the song “angels can fly/she’s living proof” isn’t much better) feel forced.  Add to that filler lines like “that’s one thing for sure” that mostly serve the rhyme, and it fully pulled me out of a song that might have given the depth of emotion I was seeking.  That said, worth noting once again Colin Linden’s slide guitar on this song, sweet and beautiful as ever.

Even not liking some of the lyrics, I can’t point to anything truly terrible on “Edge of Day.”  This is a record made by someone who understands how to write a song, and how to deliver it with passion and professionalism.  I didn’t emotionally connect to the album as a whole, but it is still a good effort from a talented countryman.

Best tracks:  Stranded, Slipping Away, When I Rise

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