Jimmy Rankin’s solo efforts have always leaned more heavily on country and roots-rock than the music he made with his siblings in the Rankin Family. But for my money, he’s always been at his best when showcasing that gorgeous voice of his.
His skills as a vocalist were somewhat under appreciated during his time with the Rankins, overshadowed as they were by the angelic tones of his three sisters, Heather, Cookie and the late Raylene. But Jimmy too has a pure, pristine voice that evokes the emotion of a narrative like few singers can.
With that in mind, the standout track on Harvest Highway, Jimmy’s first new album since 2018’s Moving East, is the stirring “Doors of Assisi,” which invokes St. Frances of Assisi in its call for an end to greed and poverty. It’s a beautiful slow song with a soaring melodic hook that recounts an encounter with a panhandler in the town synonymous with compassion.
A number of the other songs on the album are mid and up-tempo numbers, like the old-timey love song “Irish Red” and the drinking song “Drunk or Sober,” all of which are infused with that “twang” Jimmy brought home from his years in Nashville.
I’ve often felt that Jimmy’s up-tempo stuff translated better during his live sets than they do on record, but maybe that’s just me.
But there are several other highlights, including the First World War ballad “Missing at the Somme,” “Farewell to the Merasheen” – with its beautiful fiddle licks from J.P. Cormier – and the traditional numbers “Peggy Gordon” and “Banks of Sicily,” which Jimmy first heard on John Allen Cameron’s albums.
Honestly, though, this album is worth checking out for “Doors of Assisi” alone. It’s a breathtaking prayer for the troubled times we’re living in.