Jimmy Rankin,
(Song Dog, 2003)

Jimmy Rankin's second solo CD, Handmade, is perfectly crafted. Every song is a beautifully written story, while the vocals and music are honest and earthy.

A far cry from the Celtic-based work he did with his siblings in the Rankin Family and quite different from his first solo album, Song Dog, which had a stronger rock and country feel, Handmade uses mostly acoustic instruments and even those sparingly. The sound is pure in that it incorporates only as much as is necessary to tell the story. There are no bells and whistles, no polished-up fanciness, just a pure, honest expression of the tales he has to tell. The music has a very live feel, as if you were lucky enough to catch the musicians jamming in a bar after hours.

The first track, "Morning Bound Train," stems from a road trip Rankin took and reflects the loneliness and soul-searching one experiences while travelling, especially with insomnia.

The title track, "Handmade," is probably the closest to mainstream music, though its lyrics have a deepness only occasionally found on the radio. Commenting on commercialisation, mass production and a society of conformity, he demands something real, something handmade.

Many of the songs have an air of the past about them. They bring to mind the old men sitting around reminiscing about the way it used to be in a rural community. There is a permeating sense of nostalgia, but in a realistic way, not as a desire for something that never existed.

There is also a feeling of movement. Quite a few of the songs involve distant locations, traveling or driving. "Colorado," "Sweet Wheels," "One Last Ride," "California" (called "California Dreamer" in the liner notes) and "Running Home" all exude searching and the hope of finding companionship.

My first impression of the album was that if Alistair MacLeod, author of Island and No Great Mischief, wrote songs, this is what they would sound like, and if Jimmy Rankin wrote stories, they would be like Alistair MacLeod's.

Co-writing on three songs with Tim Thorney, who also co-produced, and using minimal instrumentation on most tracks, the sound is scraped down and bare. Rankin's voice is given free reign to evoke the emotions and scenes he wants us to see.

The hidden bonus track, "Northern Winds," is just Rankin and his guitar and is initially the sound he planned on giving the album. However, things change, and most of the songs got a bit more fleshed out with percussion, piano and backing vocals. I am not the only one to find this sound appealing, as this album has earned six East Coast Music Award nominations, winning Male Artist of the Year and Roots/Traditional Recording of the Year.

Jimmy Rankin has written emotional lyrics and arranged them without losing any of their uniqueness or power. This is an amazing album that will touch your soul and maybe give you a wee bit of wanderlust as well!

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 26 June 2004

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