Originally co-lead singer with renowned Canadian folk outfit The Rankin Family, Jimmy Rankin went solo in 2001 and, produced by Joel Plaskett, Moving East is his seventh album, the first in four years. The comes from the fact that he recently moved back to Nova Scotia after seven years in Nashville. No surprise, then, to find two tracks about hanging up rambling shoes and coming back home, the banjo-accompanied folksy sway-along No More I’ll Go Roving and the mandolin and handclaps driven Nova Scotia nostalgia folk-rock romp of Been Away.
Much of what you get is what Rankin describes as Maritime music stripped of the stereotypes and infused with a local Cape Breton flavour, indeed, everything is recorded live and the album closes with the lively whooping and clapping Dirt ‘N Potatoes Cape Breton Fiddle Medley, an old style medley of three traditional fiddle reels from the region that features Ashley MacIsaac with Hilda Chaisson on upright piano.
While the remaining material is either written or co-written by Rankin, much draws on the culture’s oral storytelling tradition, case in point being the steadily paced Thin Ice with its resonant acoustic guitar and catchy chorus which is based on a local character called John D who apparently died after falling through the ice on the Mabou River, the small community from when the Rankins hail.
Mabout gets an actual namecheck on Haul Away The Whale, a mock sea shanty set to a circling drum beat of which the title serves as the refrain to a lyric that takes you on a sort of pub crawl around Cape Breton, the occasional dance with a pretty lass and a fine cheese thrown in for good measure.
Early settlers hailed from Scotland, a history paid tribute to on Highlander, a Steve Earle-like sway-along gutsy ballad with bagpipes that keeps the cultural background, inspired by the writing of Alistair MacLeod that paid testament to the early Cape Bretoners.
Likewise, the region’s maritime and fishing background gets the nod on the anthemic strummed acoustic Turn That Boat Around with Glenn Coolen on uilleann pipes while, on a slightly different note, Down At The Shore remains at the water’s edge for a murder folk ballad (but “the bastard had it coming”) that opens on the gang singalong refrain before transforming into a sort of drunken New Orleans march with upright piano and mandola.
Somewhat of the odd on out lyric-wise, the banjo-led The Rawleigh Man is an old school way hey folk thigh slapper that harks back to the early 1900s, the title referring to William Thomas Rawleigh, an Illinois businessman who started out as door to door medicines salesman and in 1902 set up the W T Rawleigh Medical Company in Freeport and, by 1914, had branches in a further three States as well as two in Canada with some 2000 Rawleigh Men.
Co-written with Steven MacDougall the album’s emotional heart is These Roads, MacIsaac on fiddle that both talks of the call of home as they “Keep showing you signs for an exit but won’t let you go” and how they’re also “murdering bastards…. littered with crosses and candles and tolls to pay”, an image that poignantly reminds how his own brother, John Morris, was killed in a 2000 car accident on the Shore Road in Margaree.
Musically evoking Rankin’s days with the Rankin Family, like most homecomings, it’s tinged with both joy and sadness, but it most definitely makes you want to put out the welcome mat.