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Song Dog Review

May 25, 2004 - Roots Review

By Jema Price

Jimmy Rankin
Song Dog

Song Dog is Jimmy Rankin's first solo album, put out three years after the last album recorded with his brother and sisters as a member of The Rankin Family. During his time with the group, he was responsible for nearly all of the original songs in their repertoire, several of which won awards and had radio success. Song Dog was nominated for 17 awards, winning seven of them, which is an indication of his strong songwriting and musicianship.

For this album, Rankin chose to move away from the Celtic influence of The Rankin Family and create a more contemporary sound. Several tracks do have a definite Celtic flavour to them and are reminiscent of his work with the Rankins, however, the bulk of the album contains a rock and country feel.

Beginning with "Followed Her Around", co-written with Gordie Sampson, who plays various instruments on several tracks, and featuring Greg Keelor of Blue Rodeo on background vocals, the song gained considerable media success and won, among others, two East Coast Music Awards for Songwriter of the Year and Single of the Year. The song is a story of unrequited love with a rather unsuitable person.

And that is where his talent lies -- in telling stories. Rankin has taken snippets of life, a moment here or a feeling there, and turned them into a tapestry of sounds and words. Each passage is carefully crafted to evoke the desired image. Originally studying art, Rankin has provided the illustrations in the liner notes, enhancing the overall experience of the album, adding an extra dimension to the stories.

Several tracks stand out aside from the first track. "Lighthouse Heart" is a beautiful, slow love song. It differs from other love songs as this is not about looking after, sheltering or protecting. It is a love that will be there, supporting not smothering, through whatever may come.

"This Is The Hour" is Rankin and his guitar, singing about leaving home on the East Coast of Canada by rail to find work in the Western Canadian and American mines. It is incredibly emotional and the sparseness of the arrangement reinforces the heartache and loneliness this lifestyle must have brought about.

In a style much more similar to The Rankin Family comes "We'll Carry On". Mourning the loss of the Canadian maritime way of life and the events which brought it about, it is a cry to "carry on" and not give in. It is a rollicking song with a deep political message.

Each of the twelve tracks on this CD are wonderful. Using a full compliment of musicians and backup singers, every song is different. On several pieces, his sister Cookie, with whom he sang the breakthrough duet "Fare Thee Well Love", provides backup vocals, along with Cassandra Vasik and Laura Lynn. The female harmonies contrast beautifully with Rankin's resonant voice.

Rankin has taken his skills as a musician, singer, songwriter and created an emotional portrait of people and places. The stories he tells are universal. The album is a smooth transition from his previous work with The Rankins to establishing himself as a credible solo artist. And artist he is.

This album is well worth owning and is a credit to Rankin's craftsmanship.

January 4, 2004 Review
5 stars

Reviewer: A music fan from Toronto, Canada

Great Album!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Just amazing song writing! Great solo debut! You can tell that Jimmy lives through his music!!

October 24, 2002 Review
5 stars

Reviewer: A music fan from Troutdale, Oregon, USA

Great songs, with lots of feeling.  Canada can't keep the Rankin's a secret much longer.

September 25, 2002 Review
5 stars

Reviewer: Ryad, from Oak Harbor, WA, USA

I heard "Followed Her Around" on Canadian country radio, with the exception of the last verse (simply because I am not old enough to relate) that song is almost a blow by blow account of my high school days. Pretty cool, well on the strength of that song, I bought album.

I had no idea what I was in for. First of all, the second track "Midnight Angel" totally blew me out of the water. No pun intended. I think it hit a little closer to home because I happen to live in a "harbor town" but still, wow, I can hardly stand it. An amazing song no matter where you live.

The list goes on, there is not one song on this album that I did not throughly enjoy and hope the world hears.

Strangely enough, my favorite song on this album is not any I have heard on the radio. It is "Will Carry On" that song rocks, the song speaks of fishermen, east coast commercial fishermen I am guessing, and carrying on the tradition despite all the hardships that come with it, and the song really becomes a metaphor for life awesome, it sounds familiar, as if I had heard it somewhere before. It really puts me in mind of Billy Joel's song "Downeaster Alexa" off Billy's "Stormfront" album.

I find it hard to classify Jimmy's music as country, it has a country feel, but I would put it closer to folk/rock. Well label it if you must, but it's just good music. I can't imagine anyone but Snoop Dawg fans being disappointed.

I enthusiastically look forward to anything else Mr. Rankin decides to create.

August 13, 2001 Review
5 stars

Reviewer: Brian D. MacLeod from Antigonish, Nova Scotia, Canada

Jimmy Rankin is a good singer and I like his album Song Dog and he is from The Rankin Family and John Morris Rankin had died. The songs I like is Followed her around & Midnight Angel.  Midnight Angel is sort of a song about that could have been about John Morris Rankin.

August 11, 2001 Review
5 stars

Finally! The Long Awaited Solo Debut - Worth The Wait

Reviewer: Supernova from Canada

Long before The Rankin's final CD was released, the glue, the creative force behind the group, Jimmy Rankin, was touted as a great solo artist. When the group DID call it quits in 1999, one expected Rankin to head straight into the recording studio to continue the momentum of the popular Rankin group. That never happened. It has taken 2 1/2 years for Rankin to unleash his creative solo force. Jimmy is one heck of a singer and an even better songwriter. On this disc, Rankin is allowed to showcase that tremendous talent. The heavenly voices of the Rankin sisters are never far away though, as Cookie lends her background vocals to several tracks. The leadoff track and first single "Followed Her Around" is Rankin at his rollicking best. This same tempo and bluesy free-wheeling style that makes Jimmy such a treat to listen to is also heard on the satisfying tracks "Stoned Blue", "Drunk And Crucified" and "Wasted". Fans of Jimmy Rankin the singer/songwriter will love this. However, fans of the sweet and innocent early days of the Rankin Family will gape eyes wide open as Jimmy explores and firmly plants his feet into the genre of alt-country. This is no country album. This is no rock album. The music speaks for itself. Producer Tim Thorney has created a satisfying rollicking roots/rock debut. This is really a continuation of where The Rankin's "Uprooted" left off - the next logical step, a natural progression of growth and creativity.

Song Dog Review

July 31, 2001 - Victoria Times Colonist

By Mike Devlin / CD Review

Jimmy Rankin
Song Dog (Song Dog Music / EMI)
4 stars (out of 5)

A decade with The Rankin Family gave Jimmy Rankin an outlet for his Juno Award-winning songs, but the best vehicle yet for his work comes via his introspective and rewarding solo debut, Song Dog.  It far surpasses anything he's recorded or written before, and it is sure to please fans of artists such  as Steve Earle and Jimmie Dale Gilmore who are looking for a troubadour with roots in Canada rather than Texas.

The listener is tipped off to the songwriter's new jones early: The writer's notebook that adorns Song Dog's cover is predictably tattered and stained, similar to the way that Rankin's damaged heart comes through throughout this heartwarming journey.

One of the many instances where Rankin bleeds emotion - or at least exercises some clever wordplay - is on the moving Tripper: With a restrained passion he sings, "Mother dear I'm in trouble here, far in the distant west / I've laid down on stoney ground, I'm not feeling all the best."

Thankfully, it's not the only time Rankin works lyrical magic on this simply stunning collection of songs. Review

July 26, 2001 July 2001 - He earned his stripes as one of the primary songwriters behind Canada's much-loved Rankins; now, in the absence of that folk juggernaut (they disbanded in 1999), Rankin has turned to a rougher, decidedly more hard-edged direction. Granted, it's not exactly hard rock, but juxtaposed against the calming, ethereal sound of his old outfit, Song Dog is distinctively more alt-country. Organs purr, guitars chime -- and nary a fiddle in sight...

Celtic Cafe Canada CD Review

Celtic Cafe Canada
July 25, 2001
Review by Kimberley

According to legend...when the world was being born the coyotes were howling at the universe, and they were called "Song Dogs." Jimmy Rankin felt it was a good analogy to artists and songwriters, who are basically just storytellers telling their stories to the world and chose to use this as the title of his CD. Jimmy's a "Song Dog" for sure! Combining 12 songs with very strong, well-written lyrics, this is a CD that is going to put Jimmy Rankin on the Canadian Songwriters Map, more so than he already is!

Many of you will recognize Jimmy Rankin as the lead singer & song-writer for The Rankin Family (later The Rankins) from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. They were one of the groups who paved the way for the popularity of Celtic music from the east coast, especially with the younger generation these days.

After 10 years of success and touring around the world, the band decided to call it quits in late 1999. Jimmy says "we'd all reached a time in our lives where we were working on different projects already and it just seemed like the best time to stop." Raylene had a young family, Heather was focussing on an acting career, Cookie was settling down and John Morris wanted to spend time at home with his family. Sadly, John Morris' plans were made all too short when he was killed in a car accident in January 2000. This is still a topic that is too close to heart for any of the members to discuss publicly. However, as a tribute, Jimmy has dedicated "Song Dog" to the memory of his older brother.

Jimmy has always been the primary songwriter for the Rankins, and it's like the words just pour out of life's happenings and onto paper and the stage. That's the case with "Song Dog." The songs all paint such vivid imagery that a listener is sure to find a song on there that they can relate to...either the tragedy of losing someone...a romance with someone...the hardships of dealing with substance-abuse or many of life's general happenings.

"Followed Her Around", the first track and single from the CD, starts the CD off with a bang and is sure to peak your interest from start to beginning. It talks about an obsessive relationship with someone that is more fantasy than reality! Already the single is climbing up the radio charts in Canada, both country and pop, and the video is receiving plenty of airplay on CMT Canada and MuchMoreMusic.

Fans of the Rankins are sure to recognize "Tripper", a tune that Jimmy has performed on occasion in the past, either at solo engagements or on tour. Based on a true story, this song recalls the loss of a friend at a young age and the time dealing with it. The song has a "rambler" feel to it, which is evident in many of Jimmy's compositions. It reminds me of "The Ballad of Malcolm Murray" from the Rankins limited edition CD "Grey Dusk of Eve."

Tripper falls in the midst of four tunes in the middle of the album that Rankin calls his "Maritime moment" - an acoustic section that pays homage to his roots and speaks of troubled times, destitution and our legendary resilience.

With only a couple of paragraphs to it, "Lighthouse Heart" is a short tune but very poignant...the piano interlude, reminiscent of John Morris' style, connects the song. "Lighthouse Heart" is a beacon of tenderness, a beautiful love song that makes no apology for its warmth or its sentiment.

"This Is The Hour", a story about Maritimes who headed west on the "Harvest Trains" to find work, is just Jimmy and his don't really need anything else to hear the message and the words of the song stand out. Everyone should be able to relate to this song...having to leave your hometown to move away to find work.

Don't think Jimmy has abandoned his family though...sister Cookie Rankin appears throughout the CD singing back-up vocals on several tracks. Other singers featured on the CD include Cassandra Vasik, Joel Feeney and Blue Rodeo's "Greg Keelor."

For those fans of the Rankins, who have missed hearing anything new in a few years, this CD is sure to be a must-have in your collection. And for those new to the music, this is a great collection of songs to listen to and really make you think. And I'd recommend going out and purchasing some of the Rankins previous albums and hear some more of Jimmy's fine songwriting skills.

Look for Jimmy this fall touring Canada from coast to coast in support of this CD!

Jimmy Rankin Flies Solo

July 15, 2001 - Edmonton Sun

By Fish Griwkowsky / CD Review

My favourite Rankin album so far shows that big Jimmy has been listening to Bruce Springsteen.

That's not to say it sounds all that much like Springsteen, but it's definitely that far away from the normal Rankin file of the East Coast band. More folk-driven and definitely not the kind of typical cookie-cutter celtic, no pun intended to his younger sister, Cookie Rankin, story songs like We'll Carry On work well as ensembles without being pedestrian. Lots of substance-abuse songs, too, Wasted, Drunk and Crucified and Stoned Blue exploring different ways of losing it.

Not exactly Gordon Lightfoot, but better than Great Big Sea, in my opinion. And it sure beats a Celtic Christmas CD over the head with a spool of barbed wire.

Jimmy Rankin trying solo career

May 17, 2001 - Halifax Daily News

By Sandy MacDonald / Behind the Beat

For the first time in nearly three years, new Rankin music is being played on Canadian radio. Jimmy Rankin delivered his debut solo album Song Dog to EMI Canada, who are working the first single Followed Her Around to radio this week.

The debut cut is a lively mid-tempo track, awash with Hammond organ and crackling drums. Blue Rodeo's Greg Keelor adds his voice to the track, which was co-written by Gordie Sampson.

Though the album won't be in stores til mid-July, I heard several of the tracks this week, and the 12-cut CD is a strong vehicle for Rankin's songwriting talents. It's a departure from the Rankin Family albums, which generally shuffled up-tempo country-friendly tunes, a couple of trad Gaelic songs, some radio-ready singles and a fiddle medley.

Roots rock

Song Dog is more focused as a roots-rock project, with stripped-down production with lots of warm sounding keyboards and Jimmy's vocals up front.  No fiddle tracks or Gaelic songs.

Though Cookie contributes back-up vocals on several tracks, it's Jimmy's solo album all the way, allowing him to explore some other deeply rooted influences.

It's great to hear him back.

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