In favour of full-on country

Doug Gallant
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Award-winning East Coast songwriter Jimmy Rankin goes full-on country with his new record Back Road Paradise.

Packed with great music from start to finish, Jimmy Rankin’s new CD, Back Road Paradise, marks what he calls a ‘natural progression’ in his career

If the only three songs on Jimmy Rankin’s Back Road Paradise were the lead-off single Cool Car, his duet with Jim Cuddy on the flat-out country rocker Never Gonna Leave and Build This House, I would still encourage people to buy this record.

Those three tracks struck such a chord with me initially that I kept going back to them, but there’s so much more good material on Rankin’s sixth solo record to wrap your head around.

Back Road Paradise is the kind of record that record executives dream about.

One good track follows another pretty much from the beginning of this record to the end.

Of the 12 new Rankin originals here, there are at least a half-dozen songs that would make great singles.

Records with that many potential singles don’t come across my desk every day.

Certainly there are songs here that stand out more than others, but Rankin’s songwriting is so consistently strong throughout the record I would be hard pressed to point to anything on Back Road Paradise that I wouldn’t put on a playlist.

Then again that’s been a common thread running through virtually all of Rankin’s solo albums.

That’s because the Cape Breton-born singer-songwriter who first endeared himself to audiences with his siblings in The Rankins in the late 1980s writes for everyman.

He writes about life and love and dreams and hopes and ups and downs in a way that speaks to almost all of us.

And he does it so well.

Cool Car, for example, is a textbook lesson on how to write a hit song, whether you’re writing country songs, pop songs or soccer anthems.

Great lyrics, a hook-laden melody that plays over and over in your head long after the record has stopped, big vocals, great choruses, solid instrumental work, particularly on the part of the pedal steel player and flawless production — they’re all there.

The only thing that is not there perhaps is anything you might classify as Celtic or folk-oriented.

Three decades into the music business Rankin has decided it’s time to make his move to full-on country.

Certainly there were indicators before that he might be leaning that way, but there’s no doubt now.

“For me, going country is a natural progression, and that’s where I am right now,” Rankin said recently.

 While Back Road Paradise is a bonafide country record I would be very much surprised if the appeal of this record was confined to that market.

That being said I expect country radio will fall for this record big time.

And if I was a programmer, the next track I would go for when Cool Car begins to fade would be Rankin’s duet with Jim Cuddy on Never Gonna Leave, in which they come out of the gate like bull riders at a rodeo. This song kicks butt, and the twin lead vocals are killer, like the Everly Brothers, only amped up on Red Bull.

Rankin shines on numbers like that and the soon-to-be party anthem Whisky When The Sun Goes Down, but he’s every bit as adept with a ballad like Shades or the somewhat dark Flames, a wonderful duet with bluegrass/country icon Allison Krauss.

There’s a nice balance between upbeat numbers and ballads here, and the flow is very good.

Even if you favour Rankin’s more Celtic, more folk-oriented offerings, I believe this record will grow on you because deep down he’s still the same guy from Mabou, Cape Breton, who writes with honesty and insight about things that mean something to people.

You’ll be able to hear some of this material up close and personal during East Coast Music Week in Charlottetown.

Rankin is slated to play four times over the week, including the songwriters’ circle and the gala awards show.

Choice offerings on this set include Cool Car, Falling So Hard, Flames, Build This House, Back Road Paradise, Never Gonna Leave and I’ve Got A Feeling.

Oh hell, they’re all good.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars


Doug Gallant, a reporter with The Guardian, writes his music review column forThe Guardian every week. He welcomes comments from readers at or 629-6000, ext. 6057.

Organizations: Everly Brothers, The Guardian

Geographic location: Cape Breton, Mabou

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