Jimmy Rankin, the group's primary songwriter, has been actively involved with music and art for the past twenty years. Jimmy began playing drums with the Rankin Family when he was twelve, and at fifteen, added lead vocals, guitar and piano to his repertoire. Through his formative years, Jimmy maintained a strong interest in art which culminated in his decision to enroll in the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in 1984.
As a songwriter, Jimmy draws upon his art college training. "The artistic process is much the same, whether it be in writing a song, interpreting a song as a singer, or painting a picture. I tend to write about the human experience and rural themes and relate these in a form accessible and understandable to people in an artistic, yet real sense."
Major influences on Jimmy's style stem from a combination of contemporary song masters' works, the story telling tradition and music of Cape Breton, as well as literature and art, to a large extent, of the beatnik generation.
"It is important to experiment and be open to new ideas so as not to stagnate as an artist. I think that innovation and creativity are quintessential elements to success as a musician and artist." So far, Jimmy's songwriting philosophy seems to be working, with the single Fare Thee Well Love topping the charts at #1, an East Coast Music Award for "Song of the Year" for Orangedale Whistle, in addition to platinum status for all Rankin Family releases to date.
Where to Hear Jimmy Sing Lead:
2011 Update (Forget About The World Biography)
It’s not that Jimmy Rankin puts his heart on his sleeve, but he’s sure not afraid to roll’em up and consider the state of love in the modern world. With his fourth solo CD, Forget About the World (to be released April 12, 2011, Song Dog Label), Jimmy Rankin serves up a decidedly jubilant songwriter record that celebrates love and life with a fervour. Rankin takes listeners on a musical journey with a dozen songs imbued with a strong sense of imagery that captures the essence of emotions, moments where things change – for the better, for the worse, forever.
“I knew I wanted to make a country record, but not a straight ahead country record,” he explains. “I wanted it to be something more, something quiet in places, something reflective – and maybe something that did feel from the heart. People have a hard time categorizing my music. I’ve had an eclectic upbringing – Hank Williams Sr, rock n’ roll, Celtic… And to me, country music is all those things.”
“My last record (2007’s Edge of Day) was very rootsy, and I wanted to keep that, but I also wanted to make it bigger… make it something people who were more country or mainstream would be drawn to as well. I want to share all these feelings, these realizations with people to make a connection based on something in their heart….’Cause I’ve been making records for 20 years now – and I’m still learning about the power of what records can do. The way they bring people together, give them hope, make them sing. To me, that’s one of the greatest gifts music can give.”
As the album’s first single, a mercurial pledge to fidelity, “Here in My Heart” is quickly climbing the country radio charts, it appears Rankin is making good on his desire. Working from a restrained acoustic opening, the track builds as he taps into the frustration that marks long term affairs of the heart. It is in the trenches that bonds become strong, and Jimmy Rankin bears witness to that in his vocal. Reinforcing that ardour and passion, there is a lead guitar part over the song’s second half that is at once molten and shining. Given the reflection of the song’s emotional core, it’s obvious that it’s not just any guitar player, indeed, it’s one of country’s brightest stars and players.” – Keith Urban.
Urban is a long-time fan and vocal supporter of Rankin. But their personal connection goes back to the 2002 CCMAs in Calgary and a late night hotel jam that has since become legendary. The two toured together in 2003. “When I arrived in Nashville last March, Keith was one of the first guys I bumped into. He’s a real standup guy and an amazing guitar player. As luck would have it, he agreed to guest on the track. He brought a lot of that great energy that comes from playing onstage every night. It’s a whole different kind of vibe, very live. I like to have that kind of punch on my records, because I think it hits people differently, and Keith’s playing adds a very cool dimension to the song.”
Indeed there is an immediacy to the songs on Forget About The World. Not only is there the tug of the world in “Walk That Way” (that’s a duet with rising alt-country songstress Serena Ryder), the sweeping hope in the uncertainty in “Waiting On A Sign,” and the little details of how one’s supposed to live life on the intimate “Maybe Nothing,” but there’s the raw ache of “The Hurtin’ Part,” giving one a sense of the complexity of a life truly lived.
“I wrote “Walk That Way” with a girl (Christina Martin) from Halifax…
We’d been talking about the paths our lives had taken, and she was looking
back on her days in Austin being married and going out on an adventure. I
liked the idea of traveling, passing through towns alone or with that one
other person for hours and hours at a time. It’s an adventure, but it’s
more… And I’ve never recorded a duet with a girl like this. Given the
story and who that woman is, I wanted someone with guts – and that was
Serena, whom I’ve been a fan of since I first heard her.”
Since Rankin has spent more time in Nashville, he’s connected with a growing circle of musical kin, refining his already impressive chops as a songwriter and drinking in the spirit of country music in a place where it is more potent than anywhere else.
That spirit is present in abundance on Forget About the World, and to help Rankin blend all those influences into a singer songwriter kind of country, producer Bill Bell was enlisted. Known for his work with Jason Mraz, Tom Cochrane and Justin Nozuka, the guitarist/mixer/producer set to work creating an album that highlighted the intimacy of Rankin’s vocals and the imagery in his songs.
Eschewing obvious formulas, the pair balanced shimmering full-on production with the more airy folk-tinged ballads that mark the second half of the CD. “He understands that I want my records to be an interesting listening experience, that I want to perform songs that really hit home for people… it means a lot to me that I get letters from people about how my music has been a soundtrack of sorts during big moments in their lives – birth, death, weddings, break ups…”
Recorded at Bell’s Soleil Studio, Orange Studio and Canterbury Music in Toronto in late 2010, Forget About The World boasts an impressive backup band: Gary Craig on drums and percussion, Gary Breit on piano and Hammond organ, guitarist Colin Cripps, bassist John Dymond, fiddler Craig Eastman, and Kenny Greer on pedal steel.
Bill and I went into it open…with a bunch of songs and a general idea. We work-shopped some of the songs, got proper demos – and in that the colours emerged. You have to trust the process of it. Sometimes it’s live with a drummer, bass player and maybe a piano, then we overdubbed layers. The acoustic stuff was often just me, Bill, and a couple of guitars – for better or worse.
With a deft hand and commitment to the moments he sings of, worse isn’t an option. Certainly there is the tentativeness of the man trying to get his woman to come back in “Louise” and the willingness to embrace being wrong in “What I Wouldn’t Give,” but perhaps the most haunting performance is the tale of “Colorado Dave.”
“That song’s been kicking around in my head for 20 years,” laughs the almost shy songwriter. “And it’s not the kind of thing that would ever be on the radio, but it’s a great story; something about it just stays with you. It’s based on a true story related to Rankin by friend and historian, Jim St. Clair. “It’s about a guy from my home town, the son of a farmer who got up one day and left, landed in Colorado, and ended up riding with Jesse James back in the 1800s. Eventually, he escaped from the gang no one was supposed to leave alive, took off in the middle of the night, and stole back home to his mother, who had set a place for him at the table every Sunday since the day he left.”
While the songs on Forget About The World run the gamut from country/pop to more stripped down singer songwriter offerings, it wasn’t a particular style, a particular form, or a particular emotion that informed his writing. “When I sit down and write, I just want to write a good song.”
And there are plenty of those on Forget About The World – songs that are universal enough to resonate with just about anyone who hears them, but delivered in a way that’s so personal they seem as if they were written for you alone. Rankin is adept at imbuing his songs with a certain sense of romantic reality and at putting complex emotions into words his audience can easily interpret through the lens of their own experiences and find reflected in their own lives and loves. “Whether it be a story, conversation or whatever” says the dark-haired guitarist, “it has to make me feel something. It needs to be real to me, whether it’s a slice of my life, something I’ve heard, or someone I’m writing with has experienced.”
Things that are real seems to be the litmus test for Jimmy Rankin, a
journeyman star who believes in following his muse, digging a little
deeper to consider what others miss and one who firmly believes in the
power of songs. Forget About The World is the latest chapter in the
evolution of someone Canada knows by heart – and who will continue to grow
in the music.
2007 Update (Edge of Day Biography)
Like any painter worth his salt, Jimmy Rankin knows how to make a
"Over the past three years I've taken a lot of my inspiration from the
world I see around me," says Jimmy, who recorded the album in Nashville at
the Rendering Plant and at Pinhead Recorders in Toronto during a busy year
that also included a World Vision trip to Nicaragua and a recording
reunion of The Rankins.
"It's less harmony-driven," explains Jimmy. "There's mostly two-part on
this record, which is just a different style for me. It's also a lot
looser and a lot rougher than my other records."
While adult contemporary and country radio stations all over Canada
have readily embraced such memorable hits as "Followed Her Around",
"Butterfly", "California Dreamer" and "Morning Bound Train", the truth is
that Jimmy Rankin didn't choose songwriting as an eventual career path --
it chose him.
Jimmy's songs made their debut in a 1988 musical production featuring
the music of The Rankin Family, with his material reflecting Celtic and
traditional roots influences.
Nowhere is that more apparent than on the album's haunting first
single, "Slipping Away." It's a melancholy number that personifies the
chasm of distance between fading lovers, and the hopelessness that one
feels in having no choice in destiny taking its fateful course.
"There are a lot of topics on this record. I think each song has a
story to it, and I'd like people to listen to my record and enjoy each
song as an entity in and of itself...to take a story from it and whatever
Above Biography Copyright Song Dog Music Co. Limited
2003 Update (Handmade Biography)
Having confirmed his position as a singer/songwriter of special note
following the release of his debut solo CD, Song Dog, Jimmy Rankin returns
with a set of songs on his sophomore outing, Handmade, that leaves no
doubt as to the current mind set of the man who was in the vanguard of the
roots music revival of the early '90s as he distinguished himself as
vocalist, guitar player and principal songwriter for the chart-topping
Canadian group, The Rankins.
Above Biography Copyright Song Dog Music Co. Limited
After a decade in the business, well over two million albums sold and armloads of industry awards (including 5 Junos), The Rankins, Canada's most decorated musical family, called it a career in 1999. Erasing radio-format boundaries and opening the door to a host of East Coast acts, The Rankins excelled both at traditional Gaelic music and Celtic-influenced pop such as their breakthrough hit, "Fare Thee Well Love."
Jimmy Rankin was the principal songwriter as well as a lead vocalist and guitarist for The Rankins. Thus, it was only natural that when The Rankins disbanded, Jimmy embark upon a career as a solo artist. In 2001, a year after his brother and band-mate, John Morris died in a tragic automobile accident, Jimmy released his first solo record, Song Dog. Despite the heavy heart it was recorded with, Song Dog is a remarkably upbeat blend of folk-rock and pop reminiscent of the Jayhawks and fellow Canadians, Blue Rodeo. Rankin was welcomed with rave reviews as a solo artist and won numerous accolades and nominations including a Canadian Radio Music Award for Best New Solo Artist - Adult Contemporary, numerous ECMAs and two Juno nominations.
In September 2003, Jimmy released Handmade. Recorded in Toronto and co-produced by Rankin and Tim Thorney (Song Dog) the album is built around a rustic, roots-rock vibe and lyrical themes of motion and travel. Says Jimmy, "In mid-winter 2002, I hung out with Thorney… we listened to a lot of different styles of music and talked about the direction I wanted to take… There was a lot of chaos in the world. It was snowing and war was pending in the Middle East…AM talk-radio droned constantly in the background. This set the tone for a batch of tunes we wrote together, three of which appear on this record. I would say that the song "Handmade" is the one that most reflects our mood at the time.
The album was recorded at Tattoo Music in Toronto. Handmade bursts with the joy of making music that doesn't need life support from a studio full of electronic gadgetry. It's a record that primarily features acoustic instruments - banjos, mandolin and dulcimers - and a live, off-the-floor feel that recalls those magic moments, often outside the spotlight's glare, when musicians come together to make real music. As well there's a restless spirit inherent in songs like "Sweet Wheels," "One Last Ride" and "Morning Bound Train", charging each with a sense of urgency and momentum. The soaring ballad, "Butterfly" is slated to be the next single and has been re-mixed for AC radio.
Jimmy Rankin's career thus far, from his earliest beginnings in The Rankin Family to his current solo success, is the standard by which roots-rock's crossover appeal is judged. Handmade ably showcases that Rankin gift of pop-friendly Celtic-roots songcraft. If story telling and wanderlust are the twin pillars of the troubadour tradition, then Jimmy Rankin is certainly a charter member. As the man said in his song, "I'm movin' on."
After ten years of touring, numerous hit singles, multiple Juno awards and sales of over two million albums with Canadian musical heroes The Rankins (which disbanded in 1999), Jimmy Rankin emerges with his debut album Song Dog and moves into the realm of solo singer-songwriter.
Jimmy Rankin is a chronicler of human experience: love, fate, wanderlust, fear and destitution. Through imagery that seamlessly transports you from the water's edge in a harbour town to the gritty streets of the city, visual and musical boundaries blur on this album. Raw emotion and masterful musicality meet pop, roots rock and Celtic-tinged flavours head-on. With Song Dog, Jimmy delivers a collection of twelve tracks packed with thought-provoking lyrics, stirring melodies and edgy hooks that clearly represent a fresh, new direction for one of Canada's most beloved recording artists.
Known nationwide as a vocalist, guitar player and principal songwriter for The Rankins, Song Dog firmly cements Jimmy Rankin’s status on the solo stage as among Canada’s premiere singer- songwriters. "I am grateful for my years with The Rankins," says Jimmy. "It was all tremendously rewarding." The Rankins won countless ECMAs, several CCMAs, and five Junos including Entertainer of the Year, and Single of the Year for Jimmy's self-penned song "Fare Thee Well Love", The Rankins' signature song, which broke the band on Canadian radio. As well, for his various hit singles, Jimmy accumulated five SOCAN awards based on top radio airplay.
Despite their successes, Jimmy says of The Rankins’ break-up; "It was time for a change. We were at different places in our lives, and we wanted to do different things."
After a two-year hiatus from playing, partly from recording constraints but primarily due to the untimely death of his brother and bandmate John Morris, Jimmy went into the studio. "I've always wanted to make a solo record to explore another part of my creative headspace. It was simply time to get back at it." In September 2000 Rankin began sifting through nearly forty songs written over the past decade to choose the tracks that would comprise Song Dog. In choosing material, Jimmy says, "I was motivated to find my own voice- to make something different, more rough and musically spontaneous."
In November, at the suggestion of long-time business associate and friend, Chip Sutherland, Jimmy began working with songwriter/producer, Tim Thorney. "I was impressed with the immediacy and raw honesty inherent in Tim's songs and productions. He was working with Alanis Morrissette at the time, but he was able to fit both of us in with some schedule juggling. The first time I met Tim, we spent the afternoon sitting around, drinking beer and then after a few hours, he said 'Let's go record some songs’."
Song Dog, which will be distributed by EMI Music Canada, was recorded between January and April 2001 at Great Big Music in Toronto. Jimmy wrote all of the material himself, with the exception of the first single, "Followed Her Around", which was co-written with Gordie Sampson. The twelve tracks that comprise Song Dog illustrate Jimmy Rankin’s ease at holding his own with the best singer-songwriters out there - from David Gray to the likes of Steve Earle, Jeff Tweedy, Jimmie Dale Gilmour, and Lyle Lovett.
Song Dog takes the listener on an eclectic musical journey through Jimmy Rankin's repertoire. Much of the material on Song Dog is uncommonly pictorial in its descriptive tones, which is not surprising as Jimmy, often a visual thinker, attended the Nova Scotia School of Art & Design where he obtained a degree in Fine Arts. "There’s a lot of imagery," he says of his songs. "They’re kind of like snapshots of life."
In approaching the writing of a song, Jimmy explains, "I keep a notebook and tape recorder with me. At times I’ll carry around an idea in my head for a long time. Eventually it manifests itself musically. I like to write very quickly and hone it later."
From the opening strains of the Hammond B-3 organ in "Followed Her Around", the initial track and first single from Song Dog, it is immediately apparent that Jimmy’s musical direction traverses all genres. His signature raspy vocals meld with the musical grit of a romp through territory mined by acts like Blue Rodeo, and in fact, singer-songwriter Greg Keelor contributes backing vocals to the track. It’s an infectious song that sets the tone for the remainder of the album.
A master at creating ballads that cut to the core of the matter, Jimmy delivers several outstanding ones on Song Dog, including "Lighthouse Heart," an achingly beautiful track that celebrates the bonds of love. Sparsely orchestrated, the song relies on the lilting piano to set a mood of both isolation from and devotion to a life partner.
"Wasted," a somewhat remorseful look back at a relationship during a drunken evening, was written during a trip to Italy. The harmonica solo in the middle evokes the pain of separation, and the hangdog melody suggests better days.
There is a more acoustic-based section in the middle of the record that recalls and pays homage to Jimmy’s musical roots. Songs like "We’ll Carry On" and "Tripper" have a coastal sensibility evident both musically and lyrically. The addition of dobro and mandolin underscore the seriousness of the message behind "We’ll Carry On," which examines the strength and resilience of those whose lives rely on the sea for sustenance. "Tripper," based on a true story, recalls the innocence of childhood in the midst of a violent death, and is sustained by sorrowful mandolin and soaring harmonies sung by sister and former bandmate, Cookie Rankin. Cookie also adds backing vocals to "Midnight Angel", "You and Me", "Stoned Blue" and "Captain Harmony". Other guests on the album include Greg Keelor, Joel Feeney, Cassandra Vasik and Gordie Sampson.
A contribution Jimmy wishes could have been is that from his brother John Morris, who was killed in a car accident in early 2000. "I’ve always written with his piano style in mind and I can hear it in lots of the songs, especially on 'Tripper'." As it turned out, many of Brent Barkman's piano stylings on Song Dog, are somewhat reminiscent of John Morris'. The death of John Morris, mourned by family, friends and fans alike, was devastating and is a topic still considered by Jimmy to be too difficult to discuss publicly. "My brother was and continues to be incredibly important to me. He will be with me forever," he says quietly. Not surprisingly Song Dog is dedicated to the memory of John Morris.
Through good and bad, time has worked magic for Jimmy Rankin. With Song Dog he steps forward into the spotlight alone and firmly establishes himself as one of this country’s most engaging and original singer-songwriters. He owns his pain, pleasure, joy and sorrow and holds nothing back in the creation of songs that immediately connect with the inner core of the listener. Regardless of personal experience it is nearly impossible not to relate to the emotions, stories and imagery that Jimmy Rankin masterfully creates. The recording studio is his arena, the CD his canvas, and the songs are his portraits of life.
Jimmy's debut solo CD "Song Dog" will be released in Canada by EMI Music on July 17, 2001.
For more info, visit www.jimmyrankin.com
Above Biography Copyright Song Dog Music Co. Limited
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