Every once and awhile I attend a music concert where I wish the encore was as long as the set list or that I could somehow rewind the entire experience and enjoy it all over again. Jimmy Rankin’s show last night with his awesome 100% Nova Scotian band and Symphony Nova Scotia was one such experience. I was continually reminded as I sat there, soaking up every moment, of how magical the ephemeral nature of live performance is and that no matter how beautiful or well produced a record is; it never quite captures the same energy and soul as having the artist in a room singing to you.
The concert consisted primarily of songs from Rankin’s newest solo album, Tinsel Town which features a beautiful mixture of original Christmas songs written with Patricia Conroy and traditional musical standards from the holiday canon. He began with a rollicking rendition of “Winter Wonderland” that set the upbeat and playful tone of the evening. He also performed similarly jaunty versions of “Jingle Bell Rock” and “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree” that had the audience bopping and clapping in their seats, likely resisting the urge to get up and dance in the aisles of the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium. Rankin spoke a little about his musical education, which was the Mabou Music Hall [Academy], where he began playing the drums at rowdy Community dances and Christmas céilidhs with his older siblings, at the age of twelve. Many of the traditional Christmas songs he chose for Tinsel Town were ones that he had played during these Christmas parties growing up in Cape Breton and he has captured that festive spirit and sense of revelry on the record and in the concert perfectly. It also makes Tinsel Town a great choice to play at your own parties this holiday season.
The Jimmy Rankin Christmas originals on this record are destined to become Christmas classics in their own right. “Tinsel Town,” which sounded even more magical with Rebecca Pellett’s symphony’s orchestration last evening, conjures perfect snow globe worthy snapshots of the tenderness of the season. “December” is a reflective love song to the last month of the year that explores the month’s simultaneous connotations with warmth and cold. “Don’t Wanna Say Goodbye to Christmas” captures the post-Christmas blues through the eyes of a sentimental tough guy with a penchant for Charlie Brown and Nat King Cole. “Boogie Woogie Christmas” is Rankin’s own Christmas céilidh song, perfect for the dance call or The Lower Deck.
As Rankin and I discussed in our recent interview, one of the most challenging aspects of covering Christmas songs that have been sung throughout the last century by countless legendary artists, is finding a way to make the song your own. The most striking example of this on Tinsel Town is “Silver Bells,” which Rankin told his audience last evening he decided to include because he was inspired by John Denver’s rendition on Denver’s 1975 record Rocky Mountain Christmas. I find that between his choice to keep this song up tempo and also in his use of trills at the ends of his phrases, the Tinsel Town version of “Silver Bells” ends up with a very distinctive “Jimmy Rankin” sound, which makes this particular version of a very popular song, utterly unique. Rankin sings another song from Rocky Mountain Christmas, “Christmas for Cowboys,” on Tinsel Town, and it is absolutely gorgeous, both musically and vocally. The melody sounds custom tailored to Rankin’s voice, which is a dreamy melding of rugged and smooth, always soulful and heartfelt. This is one of those songs that you want to fall into and wrap yourself up in.
Dressed in a dapper suit, handsome Jimmy Rankin is an affable and dynamic performer to watch. As music critics have struggled to fit his body of work into one neat little category (fans of folk, country, singer/songwriter, rock and adult contemporary are likely to connect with Rankin’s oeuvre ardently), he also has an interesting mixture of performance elements on stage as well. He is charming, with a modest self-deprecating sense of humour. He tells a few stories of context about each song, but the scope and depth of his emotional storytelling is in his singing and guitar playing. There are definite moments of sheer rock star prowess, especially during the musical interludes, and he has just the perfect touch of heartthrob charisma, especially when interacting with fans yelling “I love you, Jimmy!” from the nearly sold-out crowd.
Rankin also treated us to a few songs from his other solo records including the infectious “Here in My Heart,” the first single from his 2011 record Forget About the World. This song is especially wonderful to hear live because of its use of the building of sound, finally exploding into powerful, emotional crescendos of musical bliss. Lyrically, “Followed Her Around” from 2001’s Song Dog, is one of my favourite of Rankin’s solo tunes because it is such a genuine expression of the desperate lengths that love sometimes calls for in youth. “Midnight Angel” and “Lighthouse Heart” are heart rending love songs from the same album, which are simultaneously of the universal world of the human heart, but also rooted specifically in the spirit of the East Coast Rankin obviously loves so much.
There was a little boy sitting in front of me at the concert, a young and zealous Jimmy Rankin fan with a lap filled with Rankin’s CDs. He looked only slightly older than I was when I was a similarly passionate Rankin Family fan at eight years old. In a lovely gesture, Jimmy dedicated his rendition of Rankin standard “Orangedale Whistle” to him last evening. While it was bittersweet to hear “Orangedale Whistle” and “You Feel the Same Way Too” after the tragic loss of Raylene earlier this year, it is so encouraging to know that this incredible East Coast music is finding such a young and fervent audience, especially here in Nova Scotia, to help propel it into the future where it belongs.
For the last twenty-three years Jimmy Rankin, either with his siblings or solo, has been giving audiences consistently beautiful, emotionally riveting and wildly entertaining songs and performances across the country and around the World. In the last ten years he has won 33/35 (94%) of the awards that he has been nominated for. He is one East Coast artist that we should all be very proud of. His album Tinsel Town is a worthy addition to any holiday collection and I cannot recommend enough making a tradition of celebrating Christmas live with Jimmy Rankin either tonight at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium or on one of his other stops throughout this current tour.
Jimmy Rankin rocks out in Concert with Symphony Nova Scotia at the Rebecca Cohn Auditorium in Halifax at the Dalhousie Arts Centre (6101 University Avenue) December 1st at 7:30pm. Tickets are $29.00-$54.00 and can be purchased by calling the Box Office at 902.494.3820 or 1-800-874.1669, in person at 6101 University Avenue or by visiting this website.
Subsequent Tour Dates are as follows:
- Dec 04 Fort St. John
- Dec 05 Dawson Creek, BC
- Dec 06 Sherwood Park, AB
- Dec 07 Calgary, AB
- Dec 08 Camrose, AB
- Dec 09 Red Deer, AB
- Dec 10 Lethbridge, AB
- Dec 14 Cookstown, ON
- Dec 15 Toronto, ON
- Dec 18 Ottawa, ON
- Dec 19 Brantford, ON
- Dec 20 Meaford, ON
- Dec 21 Oshawa, ON
- Dec 22 Cobourg, ON
If you miss Jimmy Rankin’s tour you can catch him on a holiday TV special produced by the CBC, CMT and the Canadian Country Music Association. Other performers include Lady Antebellum, Johnny Reid, Gord Bamford, Dean Brody, Paul Brandt and Terri Clark. It airs Dec. 20 on CBC and Dec. 21-22 on CMT. For all current information on Jimmy Rankin, don’t forget to visit his website, Like him on Facebook and Follow him on Twitter.