Raylene Rankin,
Lambs in Spring
(Lazy Eye, 2003)

Raylene Rankin's solo debut, Lambs in Spring, is a beautiful album. Given her stunning, pure voice, this is no surprise. With all the tragedy she has so recently overcome (her brother's and mother's deaths and her own battle with breast cancer), this album is a positive, heart-lifting selection of traditional and contemporary songs. The warm sounds of the music and the bright liner notes combine to form an appealing image of sunny spring days.

Raylene has chosen to stay closer to her Rankin Family roots than her brother, Jimmy, did with his two solo recordings. Many of the songs have a Celtic sound and several feature prominent East Coast Canadian artists. Produced by Chad Irschick, who produced the early Rankin Family albums, the songs have been perfectly arranged and chosen to suit her voice.

Before I get much farther, I should explain that I am amazingly biased. I have been a Rankin fan since the beginning, love everything any of them have ever done (with a few exceptions on Uprooted) and am fairly convinced the whole lot of them ought to be made saints or demigods or something similar. So, she could be wailing away off key or out of tune and I'd probably still love it.

But she's not.

Her voice is strong, pure, sweet and full of emotion. And with good reason. The title of the album is taken from the track of the same name by her late brother, John Morris Rankin. The song has an almost lament quality to it and she is accompanied by fiddler Mairi Rankin and pianist Mac Morin, both prominent solo musicians. "Alasdair Beag" is a traditional tune to which Rankin has written original lyrics for her son, Alexander (Alasdair in Gaelic). It is a touching message of love from a mother to her child. Sisters Cookie and Heather Rankin, who together with John Morris, Jimmy and Raylene made up the Rankin Family, provide backing vocals on "Highwire" by David Francey. This piece has a happy feeling to it, despite being about the potential heartbreak of love. It makes all the rough spots and effort seem worth it.

Also by Francey is "Flowers of Saskatchewan," a moving tribute to fallen soldiers and the families they left behind to mourn them. Both "Cape Breton Lullaby" and "Life of a Country Boy" are beautifully performed. The one Gaelic song, "Oran Chalum Sgaire," accompanied and co-arranged by Gordie Sampson, is sparse, with driving percussion. Andy M. Stewart's "Heart of the Home" is a wonderful love song and a celebration of the power of family. The Broadway musical-like "Someone Like You" concludes the album on a bright, cheery note.

Rankin is a beautiful singer and this recording highlights that. Her voice carries the songs easily and there is enough variation to keep the listener engaged. Anyone who enjoyed the Rankin Family will enjoy this, although she has put her own stamp to it and not just produced a "Rankin Family minus four members" album. It is her own and it is wonderful.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 17 July 2004

[ visit the artist's website ]