Rankin continues to improve with age

Perry Bergson
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Jimmy Rankin visits the E.A. Rawlinson Centre next Monday at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $37.80.

Experience pays. Just ask Jimmy Rankin.

The Canadian musician, who plays Prince Albert’s E.A. Rawlinson Centre on April 14, first achieved a measure of Canadian fame as a member of the Rankin Family in his early twenties.

Now 49, everything has changed in the industry and also for the musician himself.

“Back in the day I was pretty new to the business,” Rankin says. “I’ve seen a lot since then and I’ve experienced a lot. I’m a better performer, I’m a better writer and a better musician for sure. That just comes with experience. There’s a lot more water under the bridge. In some ways I’m maybe a little jaded in certain capacities but I really still enjoy what I’m doing.”

Rankin first gained national notoriety in the late 1980s as a member of the Rankin Family.

Five of the 12 kids in the family released their debut album The Rankin Family. The re-release of their 1990 album Fare Thee Well Love sold more than 500,000 copies, earned four Junos and made them Canadian stars.

In all they released seven albums, the final one coming out in 2009.

“Back then, even as an independent, we were selling tens of thousands of records,” Rankin remembers.

Once they signed with a major label, they were selling more than 100,000 units. With the advent of the Internet and the virtual collapse of the music industry, Rankin faces a very different reality with his solo career.

“It’s not like it was in those days,” he says. “It’s changed the whole of the industry. In some ways it has opened up a lot of doors but in other ways it has really put a lot of people out of work, that’s for sure.”

Rankin released his solo debut Song Dog in 2001, which contained the hit Follow Her Around.

He has since released Handmade (2003), Edge of Day (2007), Forget About The World (2011), Tinsel Town (2012) and Back Road Paradise, which came out last week.

The first single is Cool Cars.

It’s more difficult for Rankin even to get a CD into stores these days. Fewer stores sell them and there is more competition for the spots on those shelves.

“I sell a lot off stage so it’s important to get out,” he says.

Still, it isn’t easy to head out for the married father of six- and eight-year-old children.

“I don’t like to leave them for too long but it’s what I do,” he says. “My wife is used to it; we’ve been doing it my entire marriage. I’ll be gone five weeks this stint so that’s getting long. I know people that could never do that. It gets harder.”

Rankin moved to Nashville with his New York-born wife Mia about four years ago after living for two decades in Halifax.

While he still has a home in Mabou as well, Music City offered him a chance to immerse himself in the industry.

They decided to make the move before the kids started school.

The move has paid off just in musical guests alone on his last two records.

On his latest, Allison Krauss delivers some vocal accompaniment

“It’s kind of a dream for me to have her (on the record),” he says. “I have so many people that I admire in this business that I’m either a fan of or I’ve bumped into over the years. When you’re making a record you think, ‘Who would be the dream person to sing on it or play on it?’

“Last record I had Keith Urban play a wailing guitar solo on Here In My Heart. (He’s) another guy that I’ve bumped into over the years.”

Rankin says the “wow” moment came when Krauss first heard the song and liked it. He notes that it’s not a “feature” song where she has her own verse.

“She just very tastefully adds her magic and her beautiful voice,” he says.

Another familiar voice comes from a little closer to home.

Years after Greg Keelor appeared on Song Dog, Rankin reached out to the other half of Blue Rodeo’s noted songwriting duo.

He’s known the guys in Blue Rodeo for years.

“I’m like so many other Canadians and people around the world; I’m a huge fan of those guys,” he says. “Their endurance in making great records every time they release a record and still playing great ... they’re better than they ever were.”

During the writing process, Rankin thought of Jim Cuddy because the song had an Everly Brothers feel to it.

“He was very accommodating,” Rankin says. “I knew that he would be great because that song is right up his alley. He just nailed it.”

Rankin says the new album has a distinctive personality from his other rock-based, singer-songwriter albums.

“More so than all of my other records, it’s produced with country in mind,” Rankin says. “ I really used a lot of pedal steel and dobro and banjo and mandolin and things like that. That was the idea when we set out to make this record, to really make a pop-country record. That really boiled down to the selection of songs and how we arranged and produced them.”

Music fans will get a chance to hear some of the new album when Rankin visits the E.A. Rawlinson Centre next Monday at 7:30 p.m. (Tickets are $37.80.)

Rankin is touring with multi-instrumentalist Jamie Robinson and he promises a diverse show.

“It can be a very intimate show where I’m doing ballads, more singer-songwriter stuff and very uptempo with audience participation and people singing along,” he says. “It’s material from my solo records -- I’ll be doing a bunch of material from my newest record of course -- and I always love to thrown in some Rankin Family songs that people have really grown to love and expect at my shows.”

Now the winner of nearly three dozen Canadian and East Coast music awards for his solo work since 2002, and 25 years into a recording career that has brought international acclaim, Rankin is obviously comfortable in his musical skin.

In a 1994 interview, Rankin embraced his role as the lead writer for the Rankin Family and hinted at the solo career to come.

“I find it a very exciting and developmental time for me,” Rankin said at the time. “It’ll be interesting to see what the future holds.”

He chuckled when the quote was read back to him 20 years later.

“Back then I was really focused on Rankins stuff and I didn’t really know what the future held,” Rankin said. “I guess maybe I was thinking about making a solo record at some time but I had no idea that I would still be at it in 20 years. It’s pretty amazing we’re still here, the old dogs.”


SLIDESHOW from the concert

Organizations: E.A. Rawlinson Centre, Prince Albert, Everly Brothers

Geographic location: Nashville, New York, Halifax Mabou Music East Coast

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