This review below was written this past week, completely unaware that this performer was to pass away at the much-too-young age of 52 earlier today. It's heart-breaking news. This music-lover has spent countless hours listening to The Rankin Family music over the last decade-and-a-half and the knowledge that such a beautiful voice was silenced is tragic. The world lost an amazing talent and The Rankin Family lost a sister, a mother, an Aunt and lover of song. RIP, Raylene. The angels' choir just became better.
Far north in the Canadian Maritimes–not quite to where the roads run out–lies the small community of Mabou, on Cape Breton Island. In this tiny town, music is the tie that binds people, the local sound boasting a heavy Celtic influence brought over from sea-faring imports of generations past. A collection of siblings from a family of 14 (!) began a celtic-infused roots band that included performing at church and on the local fair circuit.
In 1989, the siblings would release their first self-titled indie album. Six more albums followed over the next decade, including Fare Thee Well Love (1992), North Country (1993), Grey Dusk of Eve (1995), Endless Seasons (1995), Uprooted (1998), and These Are the Moments (2009). Critically acclaimed and wildly embraced by several genres of Canadian music, the Rankin Family would be honored with 15 East Coast Music Awards, six Juno Awards, four SOCAN Awards and three Canadian Country Music Awards.
The vocals of The Rankin Family band member Raylene Rankin are legendary. Blessed with an amazing range and a crisp, clear and almost ethereal voice, she performed with her siblings through her school years and then in a more formal setting as The Rankin Family during the 1990s when they became internationally acclaimed performers.
For her latest recording, Rankin has selected a beautiful and unique cross section of material. There is a traditional Gaelic number, some Celtic-infused country/bluegrass songs and some AC standards- all tied together by that beautiful full voice.
The stand-out track on the album is an incredible song revisiting the 9/11 tragedy written by David Francey called “Grim Cathedral.” Hauntingly arranged and poetically sung, the song recalls the grief that overwhelmed Rankin when she watched the towers fall. The descriptions of paper falling against the blue sky frame the event in incredible detail and the emotional toil for anyone who watched it in real time comes to the surface. It is handled with incredible care- never exploited- and outside of Alan Jackson’s “Where Were You (When The World Stopped Turning)”, is the finest piece of music I’ve ever heard surrounding the awful incident.
Rankin does a stripped down and beautiful cover of Steve Earle’s “Every Part of Me” and the title song, written by Bruce Cockburn, is a terrific love song with that unique Celtic influence.
The production is, for the most part, minimal. It allows the best instrument of all, Rankin’s voice, to shine through like a beacon. The instrumentation never overpowers the tone of the song or the subtlety of that special voice- it remains elegant in its lightness.
All the Diamonds is a must if you’re at all familiar with the work of The Rankin Family. If you’re not yet a fan, go look in the mirror and give yourself a stern talking to. Then listen to this outstanding album and join the club.
Four Stars Out Of Five