By Christine Leonard
CALGARY – There are few surnames in Canadian culture that carry an immediate association with musical tradition like that of Rankin, and as a member of that line of East Coast entertainers Heather Rankin has accumulated a half-century of unique insights and artistic inspiration. Gracefully applying her manifold talents, the award-winning singer and songwriter has now struck out on her own, simultaneously upholding her family’s multi-platinum country-folk legacy while taking the adult contemporary market by storm.
“My live show is a combination of the songs I did with my family, my original material that’s on my debut solo release, A Fine Line (2016), and then a smattering of songs written by other people some that are familiar and some that are newer, but traditional. So, it’s a good mix,” Rankin explains.
“I travel with a trio; acoustic guitar, piano and stand-up bass, and we’ve really pared-down the arrangements for the songs that I would have performed with my family.”
Although she’s certainly no stranger to the perils of a Cape Breton winter, Rankin has plenty of reasons to feel warm and fuzzy about the arrival of that bitter season this year. Reunited with producer/arranger Stephen McKinnon, who produced a handful of tracks on The Rankin Family’s 2008 album These Are the Moments, Heather has been busily crafting her next poetic gift to her fans.
“I’m on the back end of a second recording,” Rankin divulges.
“They’re holiday songs, but they’re not all Christmas. It’s a very contemplative collection of songs… I think it’s somewhere in the middle of my solo release and what I would have done with my family. I’m really happy with it; I’m proud of the songs and I really feel a peace with the arrangements.”
New doors continue to open for Rankin as she embraces her role as touring solo artist and elder stateswoman of Canada’s Celtic music heritage. Penning fresh melodies and promoting her performances would seem like more than enough to keep the average person fully occupied, but Rankin somehow finds time to squeeze the distinction of ‘venue owner’ into an already impressive list of accomplishments. And, having headlined at her fair share of establishments over the decades, she’s confident she knows what goes into running a successful show – from both sides of the copper rail.
“I own the Red Shoe Pub with three of my sisters and this is our 13th season,” Rankin reports.
“It’s a great little old general store that’s been converted to a pub. It’s smack dab in the middle of Inverness in the County of Mabou, where I grew up. And it’s rocking and rollin’ this time of the year. We’re open for five months and it’s just slammed. We feature live music every day and have a fantastic menu and a great staff in our kitchen. It’s got a wonderful vibe there when you go you’re immersed in the kind of music that people of Mabou have experienced for generations. People seem to be flocking there; some to witness first-hand what we sing about in The Rankin Family songs.”
She continues, saying “I’m always looking for an intimate setting where it’s easy to connect with the audience, and make eye contact, and has a nice acoustic ambience, and people are comfortable and that’s pretty much what we offer at the Red Shoe. It’s really cool and that’s what I look for when I’m going to perform, those little places are the ultimate venues where you feel the energy and there’s no separation between artist and audience – no grand gaping hole between you.”