Last Reviews - "Souvenir 1989-1998" update on June 22, 2010

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Rankin Family album shows the big picture

Souvenir set captures variety of band's styles and talents

April 5, 2003 - Halifax Herald

By Stephen Cooke / Soundscapes

IT SEEMS THE BULK of my professional life has been spent chronicling the music of Mabou's Rankins, either as a group or solo performers. From reviewing The Rankin Family's first major mainland show The Mabou Jig at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in 1989 to one of its last - as simply The Rankins - at Fish Aid in Yarmouth.

There was the privilege of introducing the group's showcase performance on the tiny stage of Pub Flamingo during the second East Coast Music Awards and the emotionally difficult task of covering the funeral of its founding member and Celtic heartbeat John Morris Rankin. From the beginning it was clear the group was about so much more than just music, that there was a tradition to be respected and passed on, but not without ensuring its audience had a damn good time in the process.

Young and energetic, The Rankins showed the rest of the country, and much of the world, that Cape Breton music was strong and vital and had a relevant place in the commercial market, with over two million in sales and a cluster of Juno Awards to back them up. Now that career is encapsulated on the new two-CD set Souvenir: 1989-1998 (EMI Music Canada), gathering both contemporary radio hits and heartfelt traditional tracks in a broad picture of a band that was hard to pigeonhole, but whose music was always unmistakable.

The Rankins had a tricky balancing act on their hands, satisfying the folk music fans that bought the first 10,000 or so copies of their first two CDs and helped raise their music industry profile, and meeting the needs of a major label with commercial airplay that enabled them to fill arenas across the country.

Listening to Souvenir, an impressive picture emerges with Jimmy Rankin's skilful modern songwriting blending with stirring Gaelic vocals by sisters Raylene, Cookie and Heather and the occasional Celtic rave-up fueled by John Morris's artful piano and Howie MacDonald's pure, downhome fiddle style.

They found their greatest support through country radio and CMT, where songs like North Country and You Feel the Same Way Too fit the format with more spirit than their Nashville peers, but being branded a country act sat uncomfortably on their shoulders.

By the time of The Rankins' Uprooted, they were less concerned with genre constrictions than with simply crafting smart, sophisticated songs like Jimmy's rustic rock on Let It Go and Cookie's mature pop showcase Maybe You're Right. A great record with even greater promise, the pull of family commitments and the finality of John Morris's passing turned it into a swan song.

Souvenir splits the Rankins' music into contemporary and traditional sides, with singles like Orangedale Whistle and Movin' On on disc one, and Gaelic songs, fiddle sets and a live rendition of Jimmy's epic Mull River Shuffle (Cape Breton's answer to Stairway to Heaven) on disc two.

This makes as much sense as anything in terms of programming, but since the songs aren't arranged in chronological order, you'd do just as well to pop both CDs into a multi-disc changer and hit "shuffle" and let the colours melt together. After all, The Rankins were about tearing down barriers and bringing the music of their home to new listeners, why let the division of two separate discs prevent you from hearing their songs the way they presented them on album and in concert?

The Rankins to release Souvenir collection

February 27, 2003 - Halifax Herald

The decade-long, storybook career of the Rankin Family - Raylene, Cookie, Heather, Jimmy and the late John Morris - will be captured on 24 tracks on two digitally re-mastered CDs called The Rankins Souvenir 1989-1998.

The collection will include almost two hours of The Rankins best chart-topping singles and lush Celtic ballads from the five award-winning Rankin albums.

It also includes a 12-page CD booklet with liner notes written by Billboard magazine's Larry Leblanc about the band's history and features comments from the Rankins.

A bonus on Souvenir is previously unavailable live versions, radio edits and a previously un-released remix of Weddings Wakes and Funerals.

Souvenir hits record stores on April 1.

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