The Rankins

Rounder Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


I admit it, cheerfully. I'm a sucker for multi-part harmony. There are several CDs I own just for the artists' ability to harmonize -- the Corrs come to mind. And if you like that kind of harmony, then you need to check out the Rankins, Cape Breton's contribution to the 'siblings singing in Gaelic' sweepstakes. But don't confuse the Rankins for the etherealness of Clannad or the dance pop of the Corrs; the Rankins have their own down-home country twist to their music, and nowhere does it show more than on their new CD, Uprooted.

The Rankins started recording in 1989 as the Rankin Family, and have recieved multiple music awards in Canada for their blend of Gaelic/country/bluegrass vocalization, including a Juno for Single Of The Year. On this project, they finally jumped in headfirst, recording at Omnisound Studios, Nashville, for American roots/folk label Rounder Records. While the band has widened their appeal and their styles, the sound remains the same: the crystalline tapestry of sisters' Heather, Cookie, and Raylene Rankin singing over a solid instrumental base laid down by John and John Morris Rankin. (John also takes an occasional stab at singing, and he's pretty darn good.)my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The CD is clearly divided; the first six tracks are country, and you know, for country it's not too darn bad. (I have a love-hate relationship with country; some of it I love, but I wish the man who'd invented the mother-in-law-esque whine of the steel guitar would have been dropped in the Marianas Trench at a young age.) "Movin' On" is John Rankin kicking it out, and indeed this track's video is getting play on American cable network CMT, "Cold Winds" is a pleasant enough ballad, and "Maybe You're Right" is a nice bit of upbeat wordplay worthy of a Mary Chapin Carpenter. This is no accident; the Rankins' flirtation with American country music began on their Endless Seasons CD, which was produced by Carpenter's longtime producer John Jennings.

It's the latter half of the CD, though, that really grabbed me and wouldn't let go. The Celtic/Cape Breton half begins with an eerie, funky, delightful expedition into Celtic/trance/techno called "Weddings, Wakes, and Funerals" that reminds me of the stylings of Cape Breton bad boy fiddler Ashley MacIsaac. It's incredibly odd, incredibly fun, and it makes me turn up the CD every time it comes on. From there, it never stops, and never has a weak moment; the mouth-singing of "Parlour Medley", the clear harmonies of "O Tha Mo Dhuil Ruit" and "An Innis Aigh" (otherwise known as 'that song that one chick sings in Riverdance, and here the Rankin sisters blow her out of the auditorium without breaking a sweat), and the sweet, sorrowful close of "Farewell To Lochaber".

The Rankins' style is odd, true; half Cape Breton, half harmonized country, and a touch of experimentation. But it's a taste that's strongly worth acquiring, and their presence on an American label means it's a taste you can get. Get out and get Uprooted. You won't be sorry.

Rating: A-

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© 1999 Duke Egbert and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rounder Records, and is used for informational purposes only.