After a decade in the business, well over two million albums sold and armloads of industry awards (including 5 Junos), The Rankins, Canada's most decorated musical family, called it a career in 1999. Erasing radio-format boundaries and opening the door to a host of East Coast acts, The Rankins excelled both at traditional Gaelic music and Celtic-influenced pop such as their breakthrough hit, "Fare Thee Well Love".
Jimmy Rankin was the principal songwriter as well as a lead vocalist and guitarist for The Rankins. Thus, it was only natural that when The Rankins disbanded, Jimmy embark upon a career as a solo artist. In 2001, a year after his brother and band-mate, John Morris died in a tragic automobile accident, Jimmy released his first solo record, Song Dog. Despite the heavy heart it was recorded with, Song Dog is a remarkably upbeat blend of folk-rock and pop reminiscent of the Jayhawks and fellow Canadians, Blue Rodeo. Rankin was welcomed with rave reviews as a solo artist and won numerous accolades and nominations including a Canadian Radio Music Award for Best New Solo Artist - Adult Contemporary, numerous ECMAs and two Juno nominations.
In September 2003, Jimmy released Handmade. Recorded in Toronto and co-produced by Rankin and Tim Thorney (Song Dog) the album is built around a rustic, roots-rock vibe and lyrical themes of motion and travel. Says Jimmy, "In mid-winter 2002, I hung out with Thorney… we listened to a lot of different styles of music and talked about the direction I wanted to take… There was a lot of chaos in the world. It was snowing and war was pending in the Middle East…AM talk-radio droned constantly in the background. This set the tone for a batch of tunes we wrote together, three of which appear on this record. I would say that the song "Handmade" is the one that most reflects our mood at the time.
The album was recorded at Tattoo Music in Toronto. Handmade bursts with the joy of making music that doesn't need life support from a studio full of electronic gadgetry. It's a record that primarily features acoustic instruments - banjos, mandolin and dulcimers - and a live, off-the-floor feel that recalls those magic moments, often outside the spotlight's glare, when musicians come together to make real music. As well there's a restless spirit inherent in songs like "Sweet Wheels," "One Last Ride" and "Morning Bound Train", charging each with a sense of urgency and momentum. The soaring ballad, "Butterfly" is slated to be the next single and has been re-mixed for AC radio.
Jimmy Rankin's career thus far, from his earliest beginnings in The Rankin Family to his current solo success, is the standard by which roots-rock's crossover appeal is judged. Handmade ably showcases that Rankin gift of pop-friendly Celtic-roots songcraft. If story telling and wanderlust are the twin pillars of the troubadour tradition, then Jimmy Rankin is certainly a charter member. As the man said in his song, "I'm movin' on."