Reviews "Reunion"

Last Reviews - "Reunion" update on June 22, 2010

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The Rankins Reunite

Mabou's most famous family together again for upcoming tour, new CD, with John Morris's daughter helping out

November 2, 2006 - Halifax Herald

By Stephen Cooke, Entertainment Reporter

IN 1999 IT was "Fare thee well love," as Cape Breton group The Rankins announced they would be calling it a day. After a full decade of touring and recording, the five siblings cited the desire to focus on their families and pursue other creative interests as their reasons to disband while still at the top of their musical game.

Now, seven years later, when the topic of reviving the group for one more album and tour came up amongst them, the response was, "You feel the same way too?"

The Rankins reunion rumour was flying around Cape Breton during Celtic Colours last month, followed by an official release announcing that Jimmy Rankin and sisters Raylene, Cookie and Heather had been recording new music in Nashville, with an eye on going out on tour in the new year.

Unfortunately, it can never be the Rankin family as fans remember it, with the death of the bandís traditional music lynchpin John Morris Rankin in a winter highway accident in 2000, but there was always that question whether those familiar harmonies would be heard together again, eight years after their last public performance together and nearly 10 years since their final album, Uprooted.

"Where does the time go?" ponders Heather Rankin over coffee at the Lord Nelsonís Victory Arms. "I always privately hoped that some day we would get together again."

"But when John Morris was killed, that pretty much salted it, I think," adds Jimmy. "The truth is, that Celtic part is gone with John Morris, although there are a lot of great players now who can help preserve that feel. But we have a lot of songs that are pop that we can play in concert. And thereís no reason why we canít play them if people want to hear them."

According to Jimmy, Calgary concert promoter Jeff Parry suggested a reunion tour to him last spring, but the singer-songwriter expressed his doubts, considering Rayleneís solo career, Heatherís business interests and Cookieís busy life in Nashville where she lives with Grammy Award-winning producer/engineer George Massenburg.

"Weíre pretty spread out," he says. "But I brought it to everyone to see what they thought, and we got on the phone with Jeff. He had a wish list of things, like getting some new songs together, so we got together in August to workshop some songs with Scott Macmillan, who was with us in the old days.

"Then (John Morrisís daughter) Molly came into the picture with a bunch of songs sheíd been working on, and we ended up in Nashville working with George, and we wound up with enough material for an album."

While he also has his own new solo album coming out in January, Jimmy was able to come up with new songs for the project ó which is still going through the mixing stage ó and also rediscovered songs written during his time with the Rankins, like The Departing Song. Covers of tunes by John Hiatt, David Francey and Gordon Lightfoot will round out the track list.

Having Massenburg, known for working with the likes of Lyle Lovett and the Dixie Chicks, produce the new recordings was pretty much a no-brainer.

"I love the way we recorded at Georgeís new state-of-the-art studio. Thereís nothing else like it in the world," says Jimmy. "I hate describing it, it looks like the inside of a sawmill.

"We were all crouched in a little room around our mics, no headphones, recording all the vocals live together."

"As a result, it sounds more laid back, more natural," says Heather.

"It was a very pleasant experience, very musical, very spontaneous," adds Jimmy. "But you really had to be on your toes. You screw up, and youíve screwed up a whole track. But I loved recording there."

The four original Rankins found it refreshing to have their 19-year-old niece Molly on board for the sessions. Surrounded by music her whole life, she brings a love of both contemporary and traditional sounds to the groupís sonic palette.

"Right from the get-go, we knew we had to go forward without John Morris, but we still wanted him to be part of it," says Heather. "And having Molly involved maintains that connection. Sheís a budding singer-songwriter, she plays guitar and fiddle, and I think all of us recognized her talent.

"It means a lot to us that she can participate and showcase what she has to offer."

For now, the Rankins are calling the upcoming record and tour a one-shot deal, a rare chance to bring their experiences of the past decade back into the musical family fold.

"We had gone pretty hard for 10 straight years," says Raylene. "I think everybody just needed a break.

"Personally, I was exhausted. And then I had a child while we were making that last record. So for the next couple of years, as a parent with an infant, it was really hard to be away. And taking a child along and subjecting him or her to life on the road is also difficult."

"And itís not just the road," adds Jimmy, who became a parent himself for the first time last year. "Itís making records and dealing with the business and all the things that go along with it.

"Getting up on stage and doing a 90-minute set is the easiest thing you could do. Music is the fun part; everything else is where the work comes into play."

"I remember talking to Tracey Brown from Family Brown at one of the Canadian Country Music Awards," recalls Raylene, "and she said, ĎYou can take a break from it, and you can come back to it.í I donít know if Family Brown ever got back together, but she did have a solo career after taking a break.

"But learning that you can go away from it and come back to it when youíre ready is a good realization to have."

Reunited in music

Unique gems from Cape Breton's famed musical family on reunion CD

January 13, 2007 - Halifax Herald

By Stephen Cooke - Entertainment Reporter

MUSICAL REUNIONS are tricky things. They can often seem like cynical cash grabs or a misguided attempt to recapture former glories and serve only to taint a previous legacy.

Iím happy to say that there isnít a trace of any of this about the new Rankin Family CD aptly titled Reunion (EMI Music Canada). While the disc contains four previously unreleased older recordings, including one dating back to 1990, this long-awaited disc is no odds and sods collection; their inclusion here wonít ruffle any feathers since each is a unique gem in its own right.

"Fare thee well, my own true one," sings Raylene Rankin on Reunionís opening track, Jimmy Rankinís Departure Song, echoing the groupís first hit single Fare Thee Well Love. The near-quote highlights the discís status as a kind of career coda, and itís probably no coincidence that itís full of musical farewells, from Heather Rankinís aching breakup song Nothing to Believe to the two closing songs Sunset ó written and sung by the siblingsí niece Molly Rankin ó and a buoyant acoustic cover of John Hiattís Gone.

Produced with Nashville whiz George Massenburg (a.k.a. Mr. Cookie Rankin), the new tracks avoid any obvious attempt to court country radio, although a barnburning rendition of David Franceyís Sunday Morning with cousin Mairi Rankinís fiery fiddle breakdown seems like a good prospect. The Rankins were never comfortable with being pigeonholed, and here the focus is on making each song fit the groupís own blend of sounds, spanning stone traditional and contemporary songwriting forms with ease and grace.

The inclusion of a pair of CBC recordings by late brother John Morris Rankin on piano and fiddle ó a solo Johnny Cope and the Hillsdale Medley set of jigs and reels with pianist

Tracey Dares and guitarist Dave MacIsaac ó takes care of the latter part of the equation, while also ensuring Reunionís status as a true Rankin Family project. Hearing the elder brotherís exquisite touch and depth of feeling for traditional Cape Breton music once again makes one hope that there are other buried treasures in the tape vaults that will eventually see the light of day.

At the other end of the spectrum, the bittersweet Sunset by John Morrisís 20-year-old daughter Molly shows influences like Lucinda Williams and Sarah Harmer, with a bracing and honest voice that shows more than just genes at work. Itís a strong indication that when she strikes out on her own sheíll be able to meet the great expectations.

Other tracks offer writing that matches the best of the Rankinsí original run, including Jimmyís collaboration with former band member Gordie Sampson on Nothing Like an Ocean. The songís knowing description of landlocked homesickness will ring true for many listeners who find themselves far from home, while Rayleneís co-write with Susan Crowe, Sparrow, is an evocative and natural ode with spare production and haunting harmonies.

While Cookie has previously proved her songwriting mettle on songs like Endless Seasonís The River, she has no compositions on Reunion. She does however get to perform the recordís dramatic centrepiece, a full-blooded The Way I Feel by Gordon Lightfoot that touches on the Canadian bardís nod to British folk roots while still sounding sweet and soulful in a modern way.

The other two older recordings date back to 1997, but are more than mere outtakes. Jimmy delivers a dark, bare-bones blues on Our Time Is Tonight, with the late Kevin MacMichael providing some stinging acoustic guitar licks and Heatherís spectral Hush the Waves is a traditional Celtic lullaby sung a capella that works better here than it might have on the Rankinsí previous swan song, Uprooted.

On Tuesday, it will be seven years since the highway death of John Morris seemingly put an end to the possibility of a new Rankin Family record, a sad fact that most fans had come to accept. But Reunion shows that some bonds are too strong to be completely rent asunder, while the presence of his fiddle and piano playing ensures that the disc serves as a fitting tribute to the important East Coast musical achievements of the Rankins as well as an anticipatory signpost for one last voyage around the nationís concert venues.

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