The Rankin Family,
Fare Thee Well Love
(Capital, 1990)

American country music has a lot to answer for.

It's bad enough that that twangy stuff infests half the radio dial in the United States. It's a tragedy that it has caught on so big in Ireland, subverting the natural order of things in ways too horrible to even contemplate. But recent years have seen it spread into the Celtic heartland of Canada, too, and it's just not fair. Another sad victim to the country music plague is the Rankin Family, a close-knit group of singers and musicians from Nova Scotia. The stand-out feature of this band is the wonderful vocal skills of a host of Rankins ... but their infatuation with country music is poisoning an otherwise delightful career.

Fare Thee Well Love has some very strong tracks. The a capella harmonies of "An T-Each Ruadh" ("The Red Horse") is just one example of how good the Rankins can be when they stick to their Celtic-Canadian roots. A lively medley of fiddle tunes (called "Fiddle Medley") proves their instrumental skills as well, and the band's version of Irish classic "Tell My Ma" is delightful. Possibly the best track is a medley of Gaelic tunes (called "Gaelic Medley"), which really spotlights the vocal talents of the Rankin women.

But the album is pocked with budding country classics like "Orangedale Whistle" and "You Left a Flower," both Jimmy Rankin originals which would fit easily into the play list of any mainstream country radio station. (And I know Jimmy can do better; his maritime air "Fisherman's Son" and parting song "Fare Thee Well Love" are lovely!) Raylene Rankin's "Gillis Mountain" suffers from the same twangy affliction.

There's more to this album that I like than dislike, but it could surely be improved by a little less country music. Of course, since the Rankins are becoming famous for it, I doubt they'll listen to my opinion on the matter.

[ by Tom Knapp ]



Buy North Country from Amazon.com.
(The U.S. release of North Country contains tracks from the Canadian North Country and Fare Thee Well Love.)