Jimmy Rankin. Photo by Tim Brennan.
If Jimmy Rankin was hoping to achieve a down-home sound to his latest record, 2018’s homecoming-themed Moving East, he certainly scored big when it came to the recording locale.
After eight years living in Nashville, Rankin made the decision to return to Nova Scotia not long before sessions began.
The veteran singer-songwriter turned to fellow Nova Scotian and singer-songwriter Joel Plaskett to produce the record in his Dartmouth-based studio, New Scotland Yard.
“It was very convenient,” says Rankin, on a phone with a dodgy connection with Postmedia while travelling to a gig in Northern Ontario. “I was literally across the harbour from him. So I would just get up in the morning and drive over to his studio.”
Geographic convenience was only one benefit, of course. The two musicians may seem as if they come from different generations of Nova Scotia music scenes. Plaskett first gained prominence heading alt-rock wunderkinds Thrush Hermit back when Halifax seemed destined to become Canada’s grunge central in the 1990s. Rankin got his start in the late 1980s mixing traditional East Coast strains with traditional folk as part of the Rankin Family.
But a songwriter is a songwriter and Rankin said he immediately felt a kinship with Plaskett and his instincts as a producer.
“He is a songwriter, a producer and a working musician, so he understands everything that I do,” says Rankin. “It’s really nice to work with a producer who is a songwriter. I find that really helps when recording stuff. People like that generally tend to think about how it’s going to be sung live. I liked that part of working with Joel. I went to him with an idea for this record and he really understood what I wanted to do. He upped the game a lot and really enhanced my ideas.”
Heading East sticks to the folk, country and East Coast strains that Rankin has become known for. His five solo records alone has earned him no less than 27 East Coast Music Awards and his name is synonymous with Canadian East Coast music.
Rankin ended up digging into his vaults for some of the material, with some of the songs dating back to his Rankin Family days. To continue with the homecoming theme, Plaskett and Rankin recruited a who’s-who of local players to flesh out the sounds. That included multi-instrumentalist J.P. Cormier, fiddler Ashley MacIsaac and Cape Breton pianist Hilda Chiasson. So, yes, there are drinking songs and ballads and plenty of nods to traditional Cape Breton fiddling on the record.
Rankin is currently touring the album with multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Jamie Robinson, which brings them to Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, for shows on Oct. 11 and 12.
“We make a lot of noise on stage,” Rankin says. “I do a broad spectrum of tempos. But I do a lot of uptempo stuff. So people do definitely come for that part.”
When Rankin was pulling the album together, he chose albums that reflect Cape Breton and East Coast Canada in general. Which means they fit nicely with older solo material but also Rankin Family favourites. That pioneering band sold more than two million records during its heyday. The family has been struck by tragedy in the past 20 years, with founders John Morris, Raylene and Geraldine all passing away since 2000.
Still, Jimmy Rankin says he maintains plenty of warm memories from his years with the band.
“They were good days,” he says. “It was a good 10-year career. It lasted 10 years of making records and touring and we really accomplished a lot in that period of time.”
Like many Cape Bretoners, Rankin grew up immersed in music. It was a simply a way of life, which hasn’t changed with newer generations.
“It’s a very musical place, a musical region,” Rankin says. “I think there will always be music there of every different genre. It just seems to be bustling with new writers and artists of all sorts. I’m just getting reacquainted with a lot of people.”
Jimmy Rankin will play Studio Bell, home of the National Music Centre, on Oct. 11 and 12. Doors open at 7 p.m. both nights.