Jimmy Rankin expands on sound

There is little question to how well The Rankin Family name has been known throughout Canada over the past two decades.

Seeing how The Rankins hail from Atlantic Canada, we were arguably wise to the talent within the band long before they went on to national and international fame. And while The Rankin Family continues to tour, write and record, primary band songwriter Jimmy Rankin has carved out a nice little solo career for himself. And frankly, it is not just fellow Canadians that have stood up and taken notice.

Rankin’s fourth record, Forget About The World, was released this past April and boasts writing and musical collaborations with fellow Canucks Serena Ryder and Christina Martin. Perhaps the biggest feather in Rankin’s hat this time around was having his old pal, country superstar Keith Urban, stopping in to lend his talent to his friend’s record.

Jimmy Rankin will be performing at Casino New Brunswick on Monday evening as special guest to folk singer John Prine.

From his home in Nashville, Rankin tells the Times & Transcript that despite his decades of prior songwriting experience already behind him, he wanted to try traveling a different path for the making of Forget About The World.

“I really loved my 2007 record Edge of Day; it was very roots-oriented and recorded live off the floor,” he shares. “When it came to the making of my latest record, I wanted to maintain the singer-songwriter aspect of that album but ultimately wanted to expand in terms of how the record sounded.”

In addition to having Urban appear on the record’s first single Here In My Heart, Rankin decided that he wanted to try enlisting others to help him pen the songs that would be featured on Forget About The World.

“Going into the record, I had made the decision that I wanted to do more co-writing. I figured there would be no harm in picking the brains of others and benefit from the experience of their perspectives. Before we started recording, I had 40 potential songs, some written by only me as well as a collection written with others, to be included on the record. We then whittled the number of tracks down to 20 and then to 12 songs. And it just turned out that the bulk of the songs that ended up making the final cut of the record were the ones that I wrote with others.”

The album track Walk That Way ended up being one of Rankin’s favourite moments, which is remarkable considering the fact that the track was one of the last songs completed to be included on the album. The song, a duet with rising star Serena Ryder, was the first time that Rankin had performed a duet since some of the earliest days of The Rankin Family.

“Heading into the record, I had wanted to do a duet and it just so happened that the song with Serena worked out extremely well. I had never sung with her before but had heard her sing and thought we would sound good and it turns out we did,” he laughs.

What helps Rankin’s oeuvre truly shine to the listener is the fact that he mines so many musical territories yet can still deliver an enjoyable listening experience to his fans. Asked whether his genre hopping is an intentional ploy to keep listeners on their toes, Rankin says it is as much about keeping him interested as anything else.

“I don’t intentionally genre hop, I simply have an eclectic taste in music. Being hard to musically pigeon-hole can be a definite drawback when it comes to radio and record stores. On the other side of the coin though, it is liberating because I do not feel restricted to writing one and only one style of music. When I approach songwriting, my end goal is simply to take my influences and inspirations and write a good song.”

One of the many who has taken note of Rankin is the legendary John Prine, for whom Rankin is opening on Monday evening. Asked if Prine has influenced his own work, Rankin is quick to acknowledge the musician’s influence upon his own career.

“I grew up listening to John Prine; he has always been a staple of my song repertoire. I have learned a lot of his music over the years,” Rankin shares. “I was fortunate enough to have toured with him before and to be onstage before him and then come out and sing an encore with him is unbelievable. I literally have to pinch myself every night I am on the road with him.”

Article published in October 21, 2011 edition of the Times & Transcript