Last Articles - 2005 (July-December) update on June 22, 2010

09/27/05 - Rita on farewell journey with Men of the Deeps

10/07/05 - Francey sails into N.S.

11/17/05 - Rankin's high energy hits Oakville (new)

11/30/05 - Rankin belles (new)

12/1/05 - Sister act (new)

12/2/05 - East Coast Christmas spirit (new)

12/4/05 - Rankins' ceilidh of carols (new)

Rita on farewell journey with Men of the Deeps

September 27, 2005 - Halifax Herald

By Andrea Nemetz - Entertainment Reporter

Rita MacNeil has performed all over the world, but that doesn't diminish the thrill the Big Pond songbird feels to be playing the Maritimes on her final tour with the Men of The Deeps.

"It's so wonderful to tour the Maritimes. I'm very excited. It feels wonderful to be with your people, sharing your music," she says from her home in Cape Breton on a sunny September morning.

The beloved singer-songwriter and the famed Cape Breton coal mining chorus begin their Maritime tour on Sunday, with Nova Scotia shows slated for Truro's Cobequid Education Centre tonight at 7 p.m., at Wolfville's Convocation Hall on Thursday at 7 p.m., at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax on Friday and Monday, Oct. 3, both at 7 p.m. and at the Mariner's Centre in Yarmouth on Wednesday, Oct. 5 at 7 p.m.

MacNeil, an Order of Canada member since 1992 who will be invested into the Order of Nova Scotia on Nov. 1 at Province House, says that this indeed will be her final tour with the choir, which ranges in age from mid-30s to late 70s, though both will continue to tour independently.

"For the last five to six years, we've been doing the Mining the Soul tour and the Mining the Soul Christmas Tour. It's been hugely successful and we'd like to go out on a high note. Things have to end some time. Everyone likes to try other things," she says, noting they have just wrapped up their final tour together out west.

"I'm honoured to be touring the Maritimes with the coal mining choir that is such a vital part of the history of Cape Breton, it's always a proud moment to sing with them again."

The partnership began after MacNeil penned the anthemic Working Man. Invitations to perform with the Men of The Deeps, who had been singing together since 1967, followed including a high-profile gig at Expo '86 in Vancouver.

"There weren't a lot of opportunities to go out on tour till we put the Mining the Soul tour together," says the woman who earned Canadian Country Music Association fans' choice awards in 1991 and 1992.

"Travelling with them on the bus coast-to-coast, I got to meet incredibly humourous, talented people. There were so many funny stories happening every day, I could probably write a script. It was a great experience."

The Maritime tour wraps in early October and in November MacNeil will head out with fellow Cape Bretoners The Barra MacNeils and Cape Breton tenor Peter Gillis for a Christmas tour in B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Winnipeg and Ontario which will bring her home on Dec. 20.

The 61-year-old, three-time Juno Award-winner will then be able to take a well-earned break.

She released Blue Roses, her 20th album in 20 years in May 2004.

"It was a lot of work, but it's kind of a good thing to know that after all these years your career is still going," she said, noting it's a gift to be able to do what she loves to do.

In February of this year, at the East Coast Music Awards in Sydney, she was presented with the Dr. Helen Creighton Lifetime Achievement Award for decades of singing about her home and supporting East Coast musicians.

The awards gala featured an all-star tribute with MacNeil's compositions including soulman Dutch Robinson, Mabou singer-songwriter Jimmy Rankin, female vocal trio Shaye and Cape Breton rock legend Matt Minglewood, singing a stirring rendition of Working Man backed by the Men of the Deeps.

"It was pretty emotional. The performers brought me to tears with their renditions and the soul they put in. It was a moment I'll never forget. It was pretty amazing," she says admitting she was teary-eyed through the whole tribute. "The talent on stage was so special, it was amazing to be able to watch that. It was a great night for everyone."

MacNeil also starred in the Trailer Park Boys fourth season finale in May 2004, which brought in a total of 688,000 viewers, the highest audience for an episode of a Canadian-produced series on English specialty television in the past five years.

"It was a great thing to do. If you can't do something fun, what's the point," she reminisces.

"I didn't know where I would fit in, but when they sent me the script it was hilarious." says MacNeil. "It was too funny not to do it and it was a blast on the set. They're great guys. They let me be myself and they did what they did.

"I'm proud of them. They have a hit on their hands," she says, adding she gets a laugh when she catches the show on TV.

Her next TV appearance is slated to air this fall or in the new year.

In June, CTV filmed two specials. One, entitled Mining the Soul, was shot at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay with Aselin Debison, Matt Minglewood, J.P. Cormier and the incredible Men of the Deeps.

For the other special, which included Jimmy Rankin, Ashley MacIsaac, Canadian Idol runner-up Gary Beals and gospel singer Mavis Staples, the crews shot all around Cape Breton including stops in Iona, Mabou, Big Pond, the Cabot Trail and Neil's Harbour.

"There were a wonderful variety of folks involved. The guests were amazing and we had wonderful moments and beautiful footage," says MacNeil.

"I don't get a lot of opportunities to play in Cape Breton and when I'm home, I usually spend time in Big Pond or go on a day trip, so it was great that the TV special took me everywhere. I could see (the island) through their eyes and got a sense of pride. When people from away come and are blown away by the beautiful scenery, I am reminded how fortunate we are to live in such a beautiful place."

Tickets to the Truro and Wolfville shows are sold out, as is Friday's concert at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. There are tickets still available for Monday's second Cohn show.

For tickets to the Halifax show at $40.50 each, call the Dalhousie Arts Centre box office, 494-3820 or 1-800-847-1669.

Tickets to the Yarmouth show are $39.75. Call 742-2155.

Francey sails into N.S.

October 7, 2005 - Halifax Herald

By Stephen Cooke - Entertainment Reporter

SCOTTISH-BORN singer-songwriter David Francey may have found his third home in Cape Breton.

The rural Ontario-based performer was a success at last year’s Celtic Colours International Festival and recently a number of island performers have taken a shine to his shimmering compositions, including Raylene Rankin, who included two of his songs on her solo Lambs in Spring.

Francey will be getting reacquainted with his Cape Breton friends when he returns to Celtic Colours this weekend, like Raylene and sisters Heather and Cookie, who he last saw at home in Perth while fighting a nasty cold.

“They did three of my songs in the first set, I nearly fainted,” says the two-time Juno Award winner, who also appears tonight at Celtic Corner on Alderney Drive in Dartmouth. “Unfortunately, I had to leave before the second one because I was too sick. But that first half was really thrilling, imagine that.”

There’s more to come with new recordings on the way. Francey hasn’t yet heard new covers of his songs by the Barra MacNeils — “I heard Lucy’s singing A Thousand Miles, I can’t wait to hear it, she’s got a lovely set of pipes” — and JP Cormier, but it gives him something to look forward to this weekend.

“We met up with JP and his wife Hilda in Edmonton, and we hadn’t seen each other in quite a while,” says Francey. “And while we were talking he said we had to go out to the van so he could play me something, but then the CD player wouldn’t work!

“So I haven’t heard them yet, but how much safer hands could you put your songs in? He’s a genius, his stuff just gets better and better every time I hear it.”

Of course folk fans frequently say the same thing about Francey, who is appearing on Saturday night at the Whycocomagh Gathering, on Sunday as part of Tunes for the Mira at the Marion Bridge Recreation Centre, at the Bras d’Or Community Hall on Monday for Songs, Tunes and Stories, and with the Barra MacNeils on Tuesday in All of the Folks at Home at North Sydney’s St. Matthew Wesley United Church.

Listeners looking forward to Francey’s followup to his Juno-nominated CD The Waking Hour will be happy to learn he’s on to a new project, one that’s continuing to take shape.

In late May and early June, Francey embarked on a lakeboat trip from Montreal to Thunder Bay via Hamilton and back with fellow singer-songwriter Mike Ford, to try and capture aspects of this unique way of life in song.

“I spent about two weeks on the boat, learning what it’s like to be a sailor these days on the Great Lakes. “Then we’re going to schools to talk to the kids about it. This week Mike and I are going to five different schools that are in some of the ports. We’ll talk about it and see what they know about what’s right in their backyard, give them a bit of info, maybe write some songs with them.”

Rankin's high energy hits Oakville

November 17, 2005 - Oakville Today

By Jody Sanderson

It’s the unmistakable sound of Cape Breton, the unquestionable talent of a Canadian superstar and the edgy realism found only by experiment.  When Jimmy Rankin shows up to play at the Oakville Centre on December 8th, it’ll be the concert Oakville will talking about for weeks.

As the principal songwriter, lead vocalist and guitarist for Canada’s former reigning musical family, Jimmy became instantly recognizable with the group’s breakthrough hit, Fare Thee Well Love. Although The Rankins called it quits in 1999 after ten great years, Jimmy Rankin continued with a solo career, releasing his first album Song Dog, a year after the tragic death of his brother, John Morris in 2000.

The folk-rock and pop vocals Jimmy’s mastered have cemented his place in the Canadian music landscape. His distinctive sound has been critically received and honoured with two Juno nominations, numerous ECMAs and a Canadian Radio Music Award for Best New Solo Artist ­ Adult Contemporary. Rankin is not a recycled solo version of his brothers and sisters. There’s a kinetic energy firing from this one man’s experience that you definitely hear in Followed Her Around; it can’t be replicated by a group. Lighthouse Heart is not a tribute to familial love ­ it’s about a unbreakable bond you can only have with one person. Jimmy Rankin’s vocal rasp caresses a Celtic love song with the same passion he uses to lament a busted relationship.

A graduate of the Nova Scotia School of Art & Design, Rankin’s music is like the inside of his brain ­ a neverending series of random visual imagery he photographs with words and notes.

Handmade came out in 2003, and again Rankin’s eclectic sound resonated across the country and abroad. This is a musician’s album, featuring banjos, mandolins and dulcimers. It’s the music you wouldn’t hear at a concert; the music you would hear in someone’s kitchen. Rankin himself says, “I wanted to keep the songs as straightforward as possible, letting the melody and lyrics do the talking.” Another slice of life at the time ­ an acoustic gut response to snow, and travel, and pending war. Rankin and his buddies mined deep Cape Breton roots to keep this album fresh and authentic.

Jimmy Rankin is currently working on a new album to be released in 2006, polishing material from his time spent in Nashville this year. He also became a daddy for the very first time when he and wife Mia welcomed James Beckett Nishi Rankin into world on August 4th. Can you imagine the pictures he’s singing now?

Tickets are moving fast. Get yours today for the one night Jimmy Rankin and special guest Gordie Sampson will be in town. Call the Oakville Centre box office at 905-815-2021 or order on-line at

Rankin belles

Mabou-born singing sisters share Christmas memories on tour, Bravo special

November 30, 2005 - Halifax Herald

By Tim Arsenault

Cookie, Raylene and Heather Rankin are shown on the set of their Christmas special The Rankin Sisters: Home for Christmas, in Mabou in October. The special airs Tuesday on Bravo at 9 p.m. The trio also takes a swing through the region with their Christmas concert.(Herald)RAYLENE, Cookie and Heather Rankin agreed on one goal when they started work on their new Christmas television special.

Shot in late October in Mabou, where the musical siblings grew up, the aim of The Rankin Sisters: Home for Christmas was to depict a rural Cape Breton Christmas from 30 or 40 years ago.

"It’s sort of a celebration of the culture of the community just different people’s memories and the spirit of Christmas as we remembered it when we were children," Raylene said during an interview in an editing suite at PowerPost Production in downtown Halifax, where final touches were being put on the show scheduled to air Tuesday on Bravo at 9 p.m.

"I think the framework is the memories of people. We chose stories that sort of fit the framework and the mood. What struck me was how Christmas and the whole Christmas experience has changed since we were children. There’s a story that someone tells about their first memory of going to midnight mass and they talk about going in a horse and sleigh and hearing the bells and how special that whole experience was. I know that today, for most people, that is not their experience of Christmas," Raylene said.

People say there’s an urban-rural split on issues like Sunday shopping, but it’s probably more apparent in more general ways.

"The interesting thing about the horse and sleigh was that when we were editing the guys were like, ‘How old are these people?’ They’re not that old, the people who are telling the story," Heather said.

The sisters said the special will combine Celtic music with residents’ reminiscences of holidays past. The streeters apparently elicited a flood of memories.

"People talked about what they baked. Now you can practically buy a turkey that’s already cooked. But people would do all that. They’d bake and bake and bake for months leading up to Christmas," Raylene said.

"That’s another thing that came across the large family experience. We grew up at the end of that era and Christmas for a large family means something different than what it means for a family now. The memories are much different."

There are musical and step-dancing guests on the special, too, but admirers of the written word may feel the show is stolen by award-winning author Alistair MacLeod. The Cape Breton-raised writer reads excerpts from his Christmas book To Everything There is a Season.

"His writing has a way of really creating mood without having to see anything. His words create the image for you," Raylene said.

The new special continues a Rankin affinity for the holiday. The CD Do You Hear: Christmas with Heather, Cookie and Raylene Rankin was released in 1997 and annually registers on sales charts at this time of year.

Especially since the 1999 retirement of the Rankin Family the award-winning and multi-platinum group in which the sisters were joined by brothers Jimmy and the late John Morris the Rankin Sisters have occasionally done a few Christmas concerts, sometimes with a band and sometimes with symphonies.

This year, the Rankin Sisters Christmas Concert will be performed Thursday at the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay, Friday and Saturday at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax and Sunday at the Festival Theatre in Wolfville. Any remaining tickets are $30 in Glace Bay, $41 in Halifax and $38.50 in Wolfville.

"It’s a fun tour. We travel with a band a great band: Clarence Deveau on guitar, Bruce Jacobs on bass, Scott Ferguson on percussion and drums, Mairi Rankin on fiddle and Steve Amirault on piano," Raylene said.

"That was our band for the Christmas television show as well."

There is a bounty of footage for the Christmas special including some shot at the Red Shoe Pub in Mabou which Heather runs as a seasonal endeavour. This gift may lead to an expanded DVD release next year.

"That’s what we’re kind of hoping for but we’re pretty exhausted putting the short form together, so we’ll have to see. I didn’t realize how much goes into it. I had no idea," Raylene said with a rueful laugh.

Heather said that they had done a Christmas special a few years ago but wanted to try one which gave them more creative control.

"And once we bought the Red Shoe this past spring the idea kind of formulated even more because we saw it as a really good setting for a Christmas special," Raylene said.

The sisters themselves won’t actually be home for Christmas until the tour wraps up with the last of nine dates in Western Canada on Dec. 15 in Fort McMurray, Alta.

Sister act

December 1, 2005 - Cape Breton Post

By Chris Connors

GLACE BAY ­ For many people, Christmas is all about spending time with family and it’s no different for Raylene, Cookie and Heather Rankin.

Each year, the sisters whose sweet harmonies helped lift their family band to the world stage take their voices on the road as the Rankin Sisters for a popular holiday concert tour. And in true Rankin fashion, the shows are part musical celebration and part family reunion, says Raylene, noting that after a decade on the road, the famous siblings don’t get to see much of each other.

“We don’t normally get together during the year on a regular basis — maybe a couple of days in the summer — but that doesn’t always happen,” she told the Cape Breton Post this week as she prepared for the tour, which takes the sisters to the Savoy Theatre in Glace Bay tonight. “It’s a really nice opportunity for Cookie and Heather and I to be together and share stories and just spend time together. Also, on our tour we’re usually running into family members. We have a sister in Edmonton and sister in Calgary and a brother in Ontario so, depending on where we travel to, we run into relatives.

“It makes it more than just touring; it makes it more like a family get-together.”

Still, these days the sisters have been seeing each other a bit more often. In May, they teamed up to reopen the Red Shoe Pub and, this past fall, they recorded several songs at the Mabou entertainment landmark for an upcoming Christmas special that’s scheduled to air Tuesday at 9 p.m. on Bravo.

“Operating a pub wasn’t exactly something I’ve always dreamed of doing,” she said, “but I think we really saw it as an opportunity for doing other things and one of those things is our Christmas special on Bravo.”

Another possible future project may be another Rankin Sisters album (in 1997 they put out a Christmas album, Do You Hear: Christmas with Heather, Cookie & Raylene Rankin, that gave rise to the holiday tour). Though there are no firm plans, Raylene said they came up with some new songs and arrangements while they were on tour in February.

“When we were getting ready for that tour, we thought why don’t we throw in a little bit of new stuff with the old Rankin material,” she said. “We all came to the table with different ideas and from those ideas have come songs and arrangements of songs. I guess the thing that follows is that we could record them if we could get around to it.”

Meanwhile, fans shouldn’t necessarily hold their breath waiting for a followup to her solo debut, Lambs in Spring, warned Raylene. While she earned an ECMA nomination for female artist of the year with the album, Raylene said she prefers to keep a relatively low profile since leaving the family band in 1998 to devote more time to raising her young son, Alexander.

“(Lambs in Spring) was definitely something I felt I had to do, but a project like that, for me, was a colossal effort,” she said. “It means going away, it means rehearsing and getting material. I had a lot of fun doing that, but it’s a major project and I don’t see it happening in the next couple years.

“I feel like I got started with that album and it would be nice to follow it up with something else, but I don’t know, it might just be a work in progress over time.”

Joining the Rankin Sisters on the tour are veteran Rankin Family players Bruce Jacobs, Scott Ferguson, Clarence Deveau and Steve Amirault. Cousin Mairi Rankin, who may be best known for her work with Beolach, will be playing fiddle.

For tickets, phone 564-6668 or visit

East Coast Christmas spirit

December 2, 2005 - Red Deer Advocate

By Penny Caster

Who better than four Rankin sisters to take over the Red Shoe Pub at Mabou, Cape Breton Island?

Mabou is where the musical Rankin family is from and the pub, formerly a local hub for traditional live music and a real gathering place for the community, had been closed for a year.

So sisters Raylene, Heather, Cookie and Genevieve, got together and bought it. Since the summer, it's been humming with music and activity again.

Heather is the hands-on member of the group as far as the pub is concerned, but she'll be leaving it in other hands for the next few weeks as she, Raylene and Cookie head out on a Christmas concert tour.

It brings The Rankin Sisters to Red Deer's Memorial Centre Dec. 12 for a 7:30 p.m. show.

Anybody who enjoys the East Coast-flavoured Celtic music the Rankins do so well will remember The Rankin Family, later known just as The Rankins.

For a good 10 years, the family band, consisting of five of the 11 Rankin siblings, entertained Canadians from coast to coast.

The Rankins sold more than two million records, and collected five Juno Awards, including group of the year in 1994.

But in 1999, as some of the siblings found their family responsibilities making it harder for them to keep touring, the group disbanded.

Some of its members then opted to pursue individual careers.

Not long after that, tragedy struck in January of 2000, when John Morris Rankin who had been the band's anchor playing piano and fiddle, was killed in a highway accident.

Raylene, too, had a personal crisis to deal with, when she was found to have breast cancer in 2001.

That's under control now and she sounded bright and well as she chatted from Glace Bay, N.S., where the first show in the tour bringing the sisters to Red Deer takes place.

Rehearsals can be a bit of a challenge, since Raylene lives in Halifax and Cookie lives in Tennessee.

Heather, of course, spends a lot of time running the Shoe in Mabou.

Genevieve, the other pub partner, makes her home in California.

But thanks to the pub enterprise, Cookie spent a lot of time in Nova Scotia this summer, said Raylene.

Typically, the sisters get together ahead of time at the venue at which a tour starts to rehearse, she said.

Raylene has just finished working on a Bravo Television special, Home for Christmas, taped in part at the pub.

It airs Dec. 6.

The concert the sisters bring to Red Deer will, of course, include lashings of Christmas music, some traditional songs, and some Cape Breton Island favourites.

"And maybe a few Rankin Family favourites, as well," said Raylene.

The tour ends Dec. 17, giving the sisters enough time to get home to spend Christmas with their families.

In the meantime: "We are looking forward to coming to Alberta," said Raylene.

"We always have a great time when we get to the big sky country, and hopefully we will be able to provide some Christmas spirit."

The Rankin Sisters, Raylene, Cookie and Heather, come to Red Deer Dec. 12.

Rankins' ceilidh of carols

Sisters ring out holiday cheer

December 4, 2005 - Halifax Herald

By Stephen Cooke, Entertainment Reporter

The Rankin Sisters – Cookie, Raylene and Heather – shared some of their holiday favourites during a packed Christmas concert at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Friday night. Tonight the trio, with a five-piece band, performs at Festival Theatre in Wolfville. They also have a Christmas special airing on Bravo on Tuesday at 9 p.m.(TED PRITCHARD / Staff) It might sound like a holiday cliche, but Christmas in Mabou, Cape Breton really is a magical time, with rolling hills blanketed in snow, light from the church shining out through the crisp air, and families gathering together as loved ones come home for the occasion.

The Rankin Sisters – Raylene, Cookie and Heather – shared some of that family feeling at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Friday night, to an appreciative crowd eager to enjoy some Christmas spirit now that December has finally arrived.

There were stories, jokes, and of course songs, covering the breadth of the Rankins’ musical experience; from age-old Gaelic tunes to contemporary pop, with an experienced quintet of musicians ably handling all the changes.

Dressed festively – Cookie in a silvery gown, Raylene in dark blue velvet and Heather in a radiant floor-length dress – the sisters opened with a full-throated I Wonder as I Wander, set to a contemporary beat and highlighted by the spry fiddle of cousin Mairi Rankin, also from the band Beolach. Raylene explained the concert was a chance to relax before the hectic pace of the holiday season takes hold. The threesome then turned its finely tuned harmonies to Do You Hear What I Hear, giving the usually solemn carol an upbeat twist.

When they did slow things down, it was lovely as in the Latin hymn Donna Nobis Pacem (Grant Us Peace), accompanied by Clarence Deveau’s acoustic guitar. Originally taught to them by the nuns in Mabou, the song soared as the three voices intertwined.

Besides Latin, there was also Gaelic, with Christ Child’s Lullaby, as Cookie injected the ancient words with some modern soul feeling.

After some light swing on Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, featuring a nimble Steve Amirault piano solo, the Rankins brought out the Halifax Boys Honour Choir, looking snappy in their red sweaters and ties. Heather talked to one young lad who admitted he’d never heard of the Rankins prior to rehearsing for the concert, to which she sharply replied, ""Do you still want that pizza after the show?""

She relented after a glowing version of Rita MacNeil’s Now the Bells Ring, with its message of peace and hope. ""You did such a good job, you can have extra anchovies and broccoli!""

Under the direction of Pam Burton, the choir also shone on Heather’s own Christmas Star, enriching the song’s heartfelt sentiment. After intermission they returned for the Gaelic hymn King of Kings, and a number on their own, the spiritual Mary Rock Your Little Baby.

The sharing of stories added a humourous touch to the evening, like Cookie’s recollection of mom getting a cardboard fireplace for the stockings, or Mairi’s tale of dealing with a lecherous listener with a sprig of mistletoe at Mabou’s Red Shoe Pub.

After a jazzy Winter Wonderland, lit up by Amirault’s fingerwork, and a hushed Silent Night, the Rankins returned for an encore that included some sprightly stepdancing. What better way to kick off the holiday season?

Photo: The Rankin Sisters – Cookie, Raylene and Heather – shared some of their holiday favourites during a packed Christmas concert at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium on Friday night. Tonight the trio, with a five-piece band, performs at Festival Theatre in Wolfville. They also have a Christmas special airing on Bravo on Tuesday at 9 p.m.(TED PRITCHARD / Staff)

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