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Heather Rankin: Coastal to the Heart


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.

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FYI Music News Music News Digest, Sept. 11, 2017

Sep 11, 2017 by FYI Staff. FYI Music News.

“Titanically,” the third single from Heather Rankin’s self-titled debut solo album, co-written with David Tyson, was inspired by the 2013 auctioning of the violin played by Titanic bandleader Wallace Hartley as the famed ship was sinking.

The violin, in a music case, was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean, still strapped to Hartley’s body, by the crew of the Mackay-Bennett Cable Ship. Hartley’s body was taken to Halifax and then sent home to his family for burial, but his violin and case were sent directly to his fiancée, who had given the violin to Hartley, engraved with their names, as an engagement present.

As no record of the violin leaving Halifax was archived with later Titanic research, scholars and enthusiasts debated for decades about what happened to Hartley’s violin, whether it went down with the Titanic, or was lost or stolen between Halifax and Liverpool. It wasn’t until 2006 that the violin came to light when it was found in an attic in England. It went through a series of tests to authenticate it and was then auctioned off for $1.7M. It is the most expensive Titanic artifact to date. “Titanically” is told from the perspective of Hartley’s violin, yearning to be returned to the man who loved and played it. The music video was directed by Thom Fitzgerald and is a fanciful exploration of the immortality of music, of the musician’s spirit and the enduring stories surrounding the Titanic. The single is produced by Doug Pettigrew of Emotion Pictures.

BTW- Darcys, Astrocolor, Heather Bambrick, Hnry Flwr, The Smugglers, Heather Rankin, The Flatliners, Pokey LaFarge

Cashbox Magazine Canada. Submitted by Lenny Stoute. 

Just out from Heather Rankin an evocative new video via CTV Morning Live Atlantic for her song “Titanically” from JUNO nominated album A Fine Line. The video was inspired by the story of Wallace Hartley, the Titanic’s bandmaster and violinist.

Wallace Hartley’s violin case was recovered strapped to Hartley’s body, buoyed mostly out of the water by his life jacket, and thus preserved in good condition. It was taken to Halifax by the Mackay-Bennett Cable Ship that recovered many of the Titanic’s victims in April, 1912. Several newspaper articles listed the items recovered with Hartley, including a “music case.” From Halifax, the violin and its case was returned to Hartley’s fiancée, Maria Robinson, who had given the violin to him, engraved with their names, as an engagement gift.

For decades Titanic historians did not know that the violin and the case had been given to Maria, they were only aware of the items Hartley’s father signed for in Liverpool, as a record was kept of his receiving them. Thus the “music case” that was referenced in initial newspaper clippings remained a mystery. Titanic enthusiasts and scholars were divided about whether the case was reported mistakenly and the violin lost, or whether it had been lost between Halifax and Liverpool. Meanwhile, Maria, who never married and had no children, left the violin and its case to a bandmaster at a Salvation Army, who gave it to a music teacher, who gave it to a violin pupil. In 2006 it was found it in the attic of the pupil’s son. In 2006 Hartley’s violin and its case came to light, and it was auctioned for 1.7 million dollars in 2013, making it the most expensive Titanic artifact to date.

“Titanically” is told from the perspective of the violin yearning to be returned to the man who loved and played it. It was directed by Thom Fitzgerald and it is an exploration of the immortality of music, of the musician’s spirit and of the enduring stories surrounding the Titanic. It features a Wallace Hartley kind of character, played by Callum Dunphy, who accompanies Rankin through water, mud and time, all while continually playing his beloved violin. The story also has an emotional connection for Rankin, whose brother John Morris Rankin, was also a violinist and like Hartley, died tragically in the Atlantic Ocean, leaving behind a deep musical legacy.  

Upcoming Tour Dates
July 6 – Cape Breton, NS – NS Kitchen Fest
July 14 &15 – Kempt Shore, NS – Kempt Shore Maritime Acoustic Festival
August 10 & 11 – Lunenburg, NS – Lunenburg Folk Harbour Festival

Heather Rankin hits Civic Centre

The Reporter. Port Hawkesbury. By Adam Cooke. April 26, 2017. 

HALIFAX: From lip-syncing underwater alongside a crew of mermaids to celebrating Canada with a tiny caribou, Heather Rankin has done it all over the past few months.

However, as the Mabou native prepares for her June 3 appearance at the Port Hawkesbury Civic Centre’s Bear Head Conference Room, she’s still adjusting to life as a solo performer, despite a JUNO Award nomination and two East Coast Music Award (ECMA) nods for her debut solo album A Fine Line.

Speaking to The Reporter Thursday afternoon in Halifax, the long-time member of The Rankin Family confirmed that her forthcoming Civic Centre appearance will mark her first full-length solo performance, as opposed to the shorter sets she has delivered at other venues in recent years.

“I can’t think of a better place to launch that full-length show than at home, in Cape Breton,” Rankin declared.

“It’s on the top of my list to please and make proud the people who know me the best and know who I really am and know my background and my family. There’s always a little bit of nerves there, but it’s exciting at the same time to catch up with people and let them know how my music is growing and changing as a solo artist.”

Overcoming fear and meeting new challenges are common themes for Rankin in 2017, as the self-declared non-swimmer accepted a challenge from award-winning filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald, the director of her upcoming “Titanically” music video, to participate in an underwater video shoot at a Halifax pool.

“My butt kept floating to the surface,” Rankin grimaced.

“We figured out partway through that we needed to put weights around my waist, which added another level of fear to the whole experience.”

However, Rankin pushed on with the assistance of the video’s aquatic co-stars, including three fish-tailed members of the Halifax Mermaids modeling company.

“They were wonderful and so sweet and so helpful,” Rankin recalled.

“They would take me, one on either side, and pull me down as far as I could go, and I would float up to the top and try to mouth the words [to ‘Titanically’]. It was exhilarating, but it was terrifying at the same time.”

Back on dry land, Rankin recently attended her first JUNO Awards as a solo nominee, with A Fine Line up for Adult Contemporary Album of the Year. She’ll hit Saint John this weekend for the ECMA ceremony, with A Fine Line nominated for Folk Recording of the Year and the album’s most recent single, “We Walk As One,” nominated for Fan’s Choice Video of the Year.

In the meantime, Rankin is enjoying her role as an official Canada 150 Ambassador, with her Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages full of patriotic photos and posts from Rankin and her toy sidekick, “Mabou Caribou.”

“It’s quite an honour – I don’t know what I ever did to deserve this, but it’s such a privilege to be considered as someone who has had a positive effect in the country,” Rankin gushed.

For more information, visit the Web site:, as well as Rankin’s social media accounts.

FBF: Remembering That First Taste of Live Canadian Music

Great Dark Wonder

As we wrapped up my post-concert review for the Joel and Bill Plaskett concert in Hamilton, ON, recently, we linked to a previous piece written illustrating how Joel Plaskett was indeed the first Canadian artist we had the pleasure to see live on Canadian soil.  But Joel was not necessarily our first live Canadian act.  With the fantastic performance provided by Alan Doyle and The Beautiful Gypsies back on St. Patrick’s Day, it occurred to me that it was his former band, Great Big Sea, who were the first Canadian band that we saw live here in the USA.

But for this half of Team GDW, Alan was not my first live Canadian act.  No, this half of Team GDW had the distinct pleasure of growing up back in the ‘old country’ across the pond, and a recent album purchase would provide the fodder for this short piece about ‘that first taste of live Canadian music’.

Taking advantage of the liquidation sales offered by a (now formerly) well-known music store chain, I picked up an album released just last year, but not seen by me in stores until now.  And as I listened to “A Fine Line” by Nova Scotia native Heather Rankin, I was immediately whisked back to the tail end of the 1990s, when a wonderful evening was spent in the British West Midlands with The Rankin Family.  It was shortly after the release of the hits CD “Collection” that these five siblings (Jimmy, John Morris, Cookie, Raylene, and Heather Rankin) would venture to the UK and beyond to share their music.  The city of Wolverhampton may have been 25 miles or so from my home (quite a journey to a Brit), but the opportunity to see this band live was a must.

And while the details of the show are a little sketchy after all this time, I shall always remember how the band quickly won the attention of the audience as they sought answers as to the name and significance of the historic statue opposite the building.  I certainly remember how many familiar hits were played that evening.  The natural leader of the pack, Jimmy, would wow with “Roving Gypsy Boy,” Raylene would melt hearts with “Rise Again,” and Cookie would deliver a powerful rendition of “Borders and Time.”  As the youngest sibling on stage, I still recall how Heather was a ball of energy, whether she was taking the lead with songs such as “North Country” or simply providing her verses in tracks such as “You Feel The Same Way Too.”  And after an amazing encore with the popular hit “Fare Thee Well Love” and “Mull River Shuffle,” the crowd would head to the exits, but not before I happened to glance back at a crack in the stage curtains and noticed Heather with a huge smile on her face as she headed backstage.

Fast forward to my daily commute with Heather’s “A Fine Line” playing in the stereo, and those memories came flooding back.  As The Rankin Family were hitting their musical peak, a tragic automobile accident would take the life of John Morris Rankin, and the life of this five-piece act too.  Jimmy Rankin would rebound and continue to both write and record solo music, but the family were tested once again in 2012 when Raylene Rankin lost an ongoing battle with breast cancer.  And during the second track on the new album, “We Walk As One,” Heather pays homage to both John Morris and Raylene (together with her siblings Jimmy and Cookie, who provide background vocals) with three poignant lines: “It wasn’t all good news as the decades flew, there isn’t anything I wouldn’t do, to be with the ones who passed away too soon.”  With this line, Heather had my full attention: kudos to her for both paying respects and taking hold of the family torch to debut a long-awaited solo album.

“A Fine Line” pretty much played continuously for three days in my car.  This is not a Rankin Family album, but the Rankin Family influence is obvious throughout.  This is not a traditional folk sound like that of the Rankin Family, as Heather intermixes her roots with a progressive move to a more modern sound.  Tracks such as “I Got Your Back” and “Undone” are as close as we get to traditional folk here.  Instead, Heather takes the opportunity to introduce a unique side of her artistic persona.  Both “For Good” and “Superstars” are a step into the mainstream, with the former hinting of Celine Dion, while the latter could easily climb high on the contemporary pop charts.  For me, there are two tracks in particular that stand out on this album.  Firstly, “Sitting in a Café,” which is a great take on the classic style of Barry or Barbra, but with a modern twist.  Lyrics that include “Swallowing your cell phone” and “Sporting my faded jeans [that are] tearing at the seams” give this song a charm that has the classic ‘piano-ballad’ roots, yet propels such timeless appeal into the modern era.

There is no doubt, however, which track supplants “Sitting in a Café” as the coup de grace on this album.  With the haunting strings and gradual piano intro, “Titanically” is the perfect vessel for Heather to shine. And how can you ignore the lines of “Toss me in a ten-foot wave, taunt me with an icy grave, Grand Finale, have me save” before embarking on this delightful masterpiece?  Piano and strings continue to dominate and provide emotional support, before Heather prepares to turn this one completely around.  With a nod to the traditional sounds of Broadway, Heather offers an impeccable change of pace that guarantees your full, undivided attention, and clearly opens multiple musical pathways ahead for the energetic sister from Mabou.  “Mozart and Gershwin, we can match the mood you’re in, picture we, living titanically” is just pure genius!

If I did have to find any weakness with this album, I would point to the inclusion of a cover version of the Tears For Fears hit, “Everybody wants to rule the world.”  I don’t dislike the song, and I certainly appreciate the unexpected addition of a hip-hop style spoken word during the instrumental.  However, for me, the song feels out of place, no doubt partly because it sits between the two tracks that I favored most (and thus became victim of the ‘track skip’ monster).  Maybe including this as a ‘bonus’ track after “Valentine” may have worked better, at least for me, but I am certainly happy to overlook my own pet peeves and to be able to have this one in my collection.

Of course, my closing statement will be so blatantly obvious if you’ve made it this far.  Now that Heather Rankin has successfully released her album, there are plenty of Rankin Family fans out there who would love to see a tour beyond the Maritimes.  We would love to see Heather hit the road, and hey, if Cookie tags along, and Jimmy shows up too for “Reunion – Part Deux,” all the better.  These are incredibly talented and gifted musicians, and if you have any opportunity to see just one of them, do NOT miss out.

~ M

Canada’s 2017 Juno Awards Winners Revealed!


The 2017 Juno Awards are underway and Canada’s biggest music stars are on hand to be honoured for their musical contributions over the past year.

A number of awards were presented at a special gala held on Saturday night, with seven key awards to be presented during Sunday night’s ceremony.

Follow along below as we update you on the winners as they are announced throughout the night.

Artist of the Year:

WINNER: Leonard Cohen (Posthumously)
Alessia Cara
Shawn Mendes
The Weeknd

Album of the Year:

WINNER: “You Want It Darker”, Leonard Cohen (Posthumously)
“Starboy”, The Weeknd
“Illuminate”, Shawn Mendes
“Views”, Drake
“Encore un Soir”, Celine Dion

Fan Choice Award:

WINNER: Shawn Mendes
Alessia Cara
Justin Bieber
Ruth B
The Strumbellas
The Weeknd
Tory Lanez

Group of the Year:

WINNER: The Tragically Hip
Billy Talent
Tegan and Sara
The Strumbellas

Songwriter of the Year:

WINNER: Gord Downie
Donovan Woods
Tegan and Sara
Leonard Cohen
Ruth B

Pop Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Know-It-All’, Alessia Cara
“Summerland”, Coleman Hell
“Astoria”, Marianas Trench
“Illuminate”, Shawn Mendes
“Love You to Death”, Tegan and Sara

Country Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Kiss Me Quiet”, Jess Moskaluke
“The Score”, Aaron Pritchett
“Hearts on Fire”, Chad Brownlee
“Side Effects”, Dallas Smith
“Tin Roof”, Gord Bamford

Breakthrough Artist of the Year:

Tory Lanez
Andy Shauf
Jazz Cartier

Single of the Year:

WINNER: “Spirits”, The Strumbellas
“Wild Things”, Alessia Cara
“One Dance”, Drake ft. Wizkid & Kyla
“Treat You Better”, Shawn Mendes
“Starboy”, The Weeknd ft. Daft Punk

Dance Recording of the Year:

WINNER: “Off the Ground”, Bit Funk ft. Shae Jacobs
“Limitless”, Adventure Club ft. Delaney Jane
“Northern Lights”, Zeds Dead
“Let You Get Away”, Shaun Frank ft. Ashe
“You Can’t Deny”, Jacques Greene

R&B/Soul Recording of the Year

WINNER: “Starboy”, The Weeknd
“Pilgrim’s Paradise”, Daniel Caesar
“Sept. 5”, dvsn
“Soul Run”, Tanika Charles

Rap Recording of the Year:

WINNER: “Hotel Paranoia”, Jazz Cartier
“Views”, Drake
“Another Day in Paradise”, Belly
“I Told You”, Tory Lanez
“Die Every Day”, Tasha the Amazon

Reggae Recording of the Year:

WINNER: “Siren”, Exco Levi
“Sorry”, Ammoye
“Roll ‘Dem”, Dubmatix ft. Gappy Ranks
“Cry Every Day”, Blessed
“Who Feels It Knows”, 
Jay Kartier

Recording Package of the Year:

WINNER: “Secret Path”, Gord Downie
“Art Angels”, Grimes
“L’Heptade”, Harmonium
“Live at Copps”, Alexisonfire
“OOBOPOPOP”, Valaire

Video of the Year:

WINNER: “Kill v Maim”, Grimes
“Killa”, Wiwek/Skrillex
“Lite Spots”, KAYTRANADA
“R.E.D”, A Tribe Called Red ft. Yasiin Bey, Narcy & Black Bear
“The Stranger”, Gord Downie

Producer of the Year:

WINNER: A Tribe Called Red
Howie Beck
Ian D’Sa
Eric Ratz

Recording Engineer of the Year:

WINNER: Jason Dufour
Matty Green
Eric Ratz
George Seara
Andy Shauf

Indigenous Music Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Tiny Hands”, Quantum Tangle
“Fish Out of Water”, Crystal Shawanda
“Round Dance and Beats (Powwow)”, Bryden Gwiss Kiwenzie
“Debut”, Silla + Rise
“Earthly Days”, William Prince

Adult Alternative Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Secret Path”, Gord Downie
“Good Advice”, Basia Balut
“The Great Detachment”, Wintersleep
“You Want It Darker”, Leonard Cohen (Posthumous)
“The Party”, Andy Shauf

Adult Contemporary Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Wonderland”, Sarah McLachlan
“Encore du Soir”, Celine Dion
“Hard Sail”, Chantal Kreviazuk
“Beating Heart”, Mark Masri
“A Fine Line”, Heather Rankin

Alternative Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Touch”, July Talk
“Art Angels”, Grimes
“IV”, Black Mountain
“Weaves”, Weaves
“Sore”, Dilly Dally

Blues Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Ride the One”, Paul Reddick
“The Northern South Vol 1.”, Whitehorse
“Rich in Love”, Colin Linden
“Blue Highways”, Colin James
“Monkey Brain”, Sean Pinchin

Children’s Album of the Year:

WINNER: “I Believe in Little Things”, Diana Panton
“Owl Singalong”, Raffi,
“Big Yellow Tunes”, Splash’N Boots
“De Tombouctou à Bombay”, Kattam
“Wordplay”, Will Stroet

Best Metal Performance:

WINNER: “Dystopia” — Megadeth
“Shock Me” — Baroness
“Slivera” — Gojira
“Rotting in Vain” — Korn
“The Price Is Wrong” — Periphery

Classical Album of the Year – Solo or Chamber Ensemble: 

WINNER: “Brahms: String Quartets”, Op. 51 NOS. 1 & 2, New Orford String Quartet 
“Schubert: Sonatas and Impromptus”, Janina Fialkowska
“Overtures to Bach”, Matt Haimovitz
“Tchaikovsky: The Nutcracker”, OP. 71 TH14, Stewart Goodyear
“Beethoven, Enescu & Chopin: Works for Piano (Live)”, Charles Richard-Hamelin

Classical Album of the Year – Large Ensemble or Soloist(s) with Large Ensemble Accompaniment:

WINNER: “Going Home Star – Truth and Reconciliation”
“Beethoven Symphony No. 9”
“Poulenc: Piano Concertos & Aubade”
“Vivaldi: Concertos”

Electronic Album of the Year:

“Congrats”, Holy F**k
“We Are the Halluci Nation”A Tribe Called Red
“Days Gone By”, Bob Moses
“Checkpoint Titanium”, Harrison

Francophone Album of the Year:

WINNER: “XO”, Laurence Nerbonne
“Trente”, Karim Ouellet
“Le fantastique des astres”, Yann Perreau
“Ultramarr”, Fred Fortin
“Love Supreme”, Koriass

Instrumental Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Bird’s Nest”, The Fretles
“The Ridge”, Sarah Neufel
“Flow”, David Braid
“Movements 1”, Blitz//Berlin
“Everyone knows Everyone”, Pugs & Crows and Tony Wilson

International Album of the Year:

WINNER: “A Head Full of Dreams”, Coldplay
“ANTI”, Rihanna
“This Is Acting”, Sia
“Made in the A.M.”, One Direction
“Dangerous Woman”, Ariana Grande

Jazz Album of the Year – Solo:

WINNER: “Written in the Rocks”, Renee Rosnes
“Blue Canvas”, Brandi Disterheft
“Momentum”, Shirantha Beddage
“Superconductor”, Seamus Blake
“Nudging Forever”, Mike Janzen

Jazz Album of the Year – Group:

WINNER: “Twenty”, Metalwood
“Real Enemies”, Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society
“One Way Up”, Dave Young Quintet
“Flux”, Quinsin Nachoff’s FLUX
“Sweet Canadian”, Order of Canada Band

Vocal Jazz Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Bria”, Bria Skonberg
“Quiet Nights”, Matt Dusk & Florence K
“You’ll Never Know”, Heather Bambrick
“I’m Still Learning”, Barbra Lica
“Words”, Amanda Tosoff

Metal/Hard Music Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Coral Throne”, Mandroid Echostar
“Transcendence”, Devin Townsend Project
“Pacific Myth”, Protest the Hero
“Beast”, Despised Icon
“Suicide Society”, Annihilator

Rock Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Man Machine Poem”, The Tragically Hip
“Morning Report”, Arkells
“Sittin’ Heavy”, Monster Truck
“Afraid of Heights”, Billy Talent
“Terraform”, Sam Roberts Band

Contemporary Roots Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Earthly Days”, William Prince
“The Family Album”, Matthew Barber & Jill Barber
“Why You Wanna Leave, Runaway Queen?, Lisa LeBlanc
“Hobo Jungle Fever Dreams”, Corin Raymond
“Strange Country”, Kacy & Clayton

Traditional Roots Album of the Year:

WINNER: “Secret Victory”, The East Pointers
“Gathering”, Maria Dunn,
“Someday the Heart Will Trouble the Mind”, The High Bar Gang
“The Original Jenny Whiteley” Jenny Whiteley
“Aupres du poele”, Ten Strings and a Goat Skin

Mabou natives named Canada 150 Ambassadors

The Casket. Antigonish. By Corey LeBlanc. 

Canada 150 Ambassador

Jimmy and Heather Rankin can sure keep a secret.

“When they approached us, they insisted that we keep it quiet until a certain date,” Heather told the Casket, when talking about their selection as Canada 150 Ambassadors.

“We saw each other a couple times [since we were selected], but he didn’t say anything and I didn’t say anything.”

She said she found out about her brother’s selection online.

“It’s kind of neat,” Heather added, with a laugh.

The brother-sister duo – members of the renowned Rankin Family – are amongst an eclectic group of, as the Ministry of Heritage described, “trendsetters and influencers, who together form an inspiring group of Canadians from across the country and around the globe.”

The group includes musicians, actors, athletes, scientists and educators, who are recognized for accomplishments in their respective fields.

“It is an honour because they have selected people with some sort of public profile; it is, actually, a very clever approach, because they reached out to people who have a public profile and who are very active on social media,” she said.

“So, they are reaching many different communities – all with the same goals in mind.”

The ambassador program, amongst other focuses, is aimed to mark achievements of prominent Canadians, as part of the nation’s historic milestone in 2017.

“They asked me, quite some time ago, if I would be willing to take the role,” she said.

“And, of course, I was honoured and thrilled and would never turn down such an opportunity, but it is also a big responsibility.”

She noted ambassadors will be active on social media and will participate in various activities across Canada and around the world.

“The idea is to promote Canada as a great place to visit – a diverse and inclusive country,” Heather added.

She noted she has not been contacted yet about attending any events.

“But, I am sure that it will get busier, as the year progresses, and we get closer to the anniversary date,” Heather said.

“I will be posting anything I attend – that’s related to it, if people want to follow me on my Facebook fan page, on my website, or any of the other platforms, such as Instagram or Twitter.”

The federal heritage ministry said the Government of Canada’s vision for the 150th anniversary is focused on four themes; diversity and inclusion, reconciliation from nation-to-nation with Indigenous people, the environment and youth.

It added the ambassadors will play key roles to encourage Canadians to get involved in the 150th anniversary celebrations in their own communities and in helping the federal government to realize this vision.

For more information, including a list of ambassadors, visit

JUNO Spotlight: Heather Rankin


By Andre Gagne. Ottawa Life.

What is it like growing up in one of Canada’s most beloved musical families? Well, if you’re Heather Rankin you sum things up nicely with the word “chaotic”.

Born the eleventh child in an already musical household, she looks back now on a childhood when the Rankin Family was just, well, the Rankin family. Then, there was no touring, CDs or awards but there was still music. Lots of music. Her life was one of songs, melodic tradition and filled with pianos and fiddles; sounds that seemed to only string together the melody of the inevitable.

“I looked up to Raylene a lot. Her ability to get up and entertain a crowd with her voice all night long made a huge impression on me. I wanted to be just like her,” Rankin tells Ottawa Life speaking of her older sister’s influence on her eventually joining the musical Rankin ranks.

“It makes sense that I ended up a performer. I guess I always knew I would.”

The Gaelic traditions in her hometown of Mabou, Nova Scotia would also prove fertile for the younger Rankin’s future. Music was everywhere, not just limited to her home! The community of just over 1,000 didn’t just have roots in Irish melodies, it had gardens and the Rankins would prove to be one of the Maritimes most fruitful crops.

Though there was a point in her life where she felt she might pursue acting instead, Rankin decided to join Raylene, John, Jimmy and Cookie in 1989, leaving the small Inverness County community to share their music with the world. They recorded their debut album of traditional jigs, reels and folk songs along with some original tracks by Jimmy and Raylene that year but it was their second album that saw the group’s breakout hit “Fare Thee Well Love” catch fire while they were still selling albums out of the trunk of their mother’s car.

The band would go on to win four JUNOs before parting ways in 1999. Heather found the opportunity to pursue acting while also touring her two sisters. Music never too far out of reach.

Despite years of performing and recording, it took until 2012 for Heather to start work on a solo project, one she says was a scary step initially.

“There was nobody to share the load so I certainly spent some sleepless nights. On the other hand I am proud that I was able to follow through. In some ways it was a liberating journey discovering my own strength and abilities.”

The result became the JUNO nominated A Fine Line.

Released last year, the album saw Rankin finding new ways to shape the Celtic sound of her past work and, in some instances, create entirely fresh songs that utilized material you may not expect. A Rankin and rap? It happens on Heather’s cover of Tears for Fears’ 80s hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” by way of Halifax rapper Quake Matthews.  The albums mixes have a more electronic base, a surge of energy that was a cognisant shift for the musician moving not just into a new chapter of her career but an entirely new book.

“I think subconsciously I wanted to create something other than what I was known for on the family recordings. Even if I wanted to I am not sure I could have continued in that vein without the others. Removing those expectations allowed me to explore more and opened the door to all kinds of exciting music,” she says.

Rankin does have some good competition in a category that features three more of Canada’s best female performers in Chantal Kreviazuk, Sarah McLachlan and Céline Dion plus powerful tenor Mark Masri.

We chat with Heather Rankin more about the new album, cherished Rankin Family memories and her future as a solo artist.

Ottawa Life: As somebody who adores Celtic music, I’m always kind of envious of those born into an area with so much of it around them. Musically, what are some of your early memories growing up in Mabou?

Heather Rankin: I grew up on the Back Street of Mabou and on one side of the street lived a prolific composer of Cape Breton fiddle music, Dan Rory MacDonald (uncle of John Allan Cameron) and on the other side, the very musical Donald Angus and Elizabeth Beaton and family. Dan Rory visited frequently in the afternoons with his fiddle to have my brother, John Morris accompany him on the piano.

Occasionally, my father would dig out his old fiddle and scratch out a string of tunes. My parents loved music. There always seemed to be music happening in the house.

In the warmer months we could sit in the back yard and hear the music streaming from the windows of the community hall. The weddings and dances were huge events in the community and the music was live and local, often provided my older siblings.

In the early 1970s I remember a film crew coming to our house to film Dan R. playing. The crew came to Mabou to gather footage for the documentary, The Vanishing Cape Breton Fiddler. My mother had us up singing a Gaelic song and then we step danced. I would have been around five years old. Some of that footage is included in my music video “We Walk As One”.

That was a regular thing, people dropped in for tea in the afternoon and mom would call us in to sing and dance and John Morris would play the fiddle and Geraldine would play the piano. There was always music playing in the house and in and around Mabou. Music was an integral part of our community.

You are the eleventh of twelve kids. Certainly big families like this are a lot less common these days. I mean, I had two siblings and we always seemed to be getting in each other’s way. What was life like in such a huge household?

What you don’t know you can’t miss. We lived in a three-bedroom house with a walk in attic. It was a simple existence but we all took care of each other. My older siblings in particular cared for the younger members. My mom started to work when I was about 4 years old and I remember feeding the wet clothes through the ringer washer with my great uncle Freddie Wright. So they taught us early that everyone had responsibilities. There was no such thing as having your own room or fancy new clothes or privacy for that matter but we survived and we all went on to have a good work ethic and to appreciate all our parents did for us. I think it would be much more difficult growing up an only child. My mom was an only child and she loved having a big family.

You started singing in the choir at a young age. With your older siblings pursuing more professional singing projects, do you feel it was inevitable that you would go down that path too?

That’s a good question. We started performing at a young age at local concerts and community picnics and of course the girls starting at a young age were members of the church choir. Some of us took to performing and some of us did not care for it at all. My enjoying the connection with an audience may have had something to do with being second in line to the baby. (laughs)

Eventually, of course, you would all form one of the most beloved groups in Canada. What are some of your most cherished memories from your time in The Rankin Family?

Gosh, there are so many great memories! For much of that ten-year period when we were recording and touring we had our noses close to the grindstone. When I look back I question why we didn’t pause more often and celebrate the good things when they were happening but we had a lot of responsibility and had to answer to a lot of people so we had to stay focused and keep the train moving so to speak.

Touring in different places in the world was always wonderful. At one point we toured Australia and New Zealand as part of The Guinness Irish Festival and worked alongside a number of world-class Irish musicians like Donal Lunny and Sharon Shannon and Altan. We toured the UK with Mary Black and Steele Eye Span and recorded and performed with the Chieftains. These were all highlights for sure.

We had so many incredible opportunities but certainly winning four Junos on that amazing night in 1992 and having our mother along for the celebration is right up there at the top of the list.

You have stated that acting was what you initially wanted to work towards before music sidelined that. You did eventually pick that up. Was that career path never far from your mind even when working in music?

Occasionally during the touring years with the family I would receive an invitation to work on a film or stage production. Our schedule was so hectic it would not have been smart to break that stride. In hindsight I think I made the right decision. The trade off was most certainly worth it. I may have missed the window to play Juliet in Romeo and Juliet but I was part of something very special. I may not have realized it at the time so I am grateful I stuck with the music. I consider myself very fortunate.

It hasn’t been easy breaking into the theatre community. When the family stopped touring most actors my age already had ten to fifteen years experience under the belt. They’d been honing their craft for years already, developing their process. I was just getting started. One thing I’ve learned is that anyone can act but acting well is not that easy. Good actors make it look easy. You can study acting but the most important training happens in the trenches on the stage while in a production.

How do you find it balancing two unique but demanding careers in the arts?

Yeah, that is tough. When I decide to go for something it’s all in or not at all. I know we live in a time when people say you can do it all but I am not so sure. At some point I think something has got to give. Since I set out to make my record it has been really challenging balancing the two, rewarding yes, but challenging.

What do you feel you brought with you from earlier work with The Rankin Family as a solo artist?

A strong work ethic, patience, and a willingness to be collaborative in whatever I set my mind to. I care about my relationships and the kind of impression I leave.

You had spent so long with such strong backing be it with The Rankin Family or touring with your sisters. How did it feel taking those first steps out on your own?

I won’t lie it was scary stepping out on my own. It took me a while to go public with my plans for a solo record. I spent my childhood and most of my adult life living and working with family in some capacity. Deciding to venture out with a solo CD was a giant leap for me. All of a sudden I was responsible for everything.

A Fine Line will celebrate its first anniversary a day before the JUNOs. Though you’ve been in the recording studio many times before, what was it like putting your first solo album together?

I know. I can’t believe how the year has flown. When I set out to record I had no idea what kind of record I’d be making. I had a handful of original songs and several directions I could have pursued but when it came right down to it I guess I was up for a challenge. I wanted to push the envelope and to explore beyond my comfort zone. So of course, I questioned every decision every step of the way but I kept telling myself it was okay to stray from the traditional world and to create my own sound.

You really could have played it safe with this release, broken out the fiddles and the Celtic gloss. Did you feel this release was a more liberating one for you as you started your solo career?

Yes, I could have played it safe and made a traditional record. It was with some trepidation that I decided not to. From the onset I was determined not to allow fear to keep me from trying something different. I had been testing the waters creatively on the final Rankin record, writing and choosing material that was a little outside what was considered Rankin territory and I felt like I was just finding my stride. So when I set out to make the solo record I think I was ready to experiment more.

And I didn’t make this record alone. I may have a Celtic, folk and theatrical background but David Tyson, the producer, came up through the pop world. It’s amazing what happens when you put two different music worlds together. Some of my favourite records have come out of such collaborative relationships. I think this kind of record takes a real and honest connection with someone who is like-minded, someone who is willing to take that leap with you. David Tyson got on board and I think we ended up with a beautiful collection of songs.

Speaking of different, you really took a classic tune from the 80s and made it your own with “Everybody Wants to Rule the World”. How did you come to choose that cover?

We thought it would be a fun experiment and record a song from the 80’s. I was a teenager back then so of course I love the music from that era. When “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” first came out I loved it for its melody and catchy hook and it was a great dance tune! All these years later when I listen to the lyric it resonates with me in a much more powerful way. It is spot on. The thematic thread running through the other tracks is in keeping with what this song is addressing. I figured, why not try it, if not just for fun.

A Rankin and rap music may not be two things people think would go hand in hand but it works so wonderfully on this track. Are you a fan of hip hop and how did you come to work with Quake Matthews?

I like all kinds of music. It may be cliché but music is the universal language. It knows no boundaries. There are some rappers who write material of substance and I respect the skill. It is not an easy thing to do. And it kind of reminds me a bit of traditional mouth music. It sounds crazy but its true.

I thought it would be an interesting experiment to collaborate with an artist from another music genre, someone who could give it a contemporary spin. Quake and I have a mutual friend in the business so that’s how we were introduced. I asked him to try something out and he jumped in no questions asked. He was such a good sport. I think he brings something really important to a song that is over 30 years old. I’m proud of it.

You’ve said that despite your longevity in the industry, you feel like you are a newcomer as the business has changed so much from where it was when you began. Can you elaborate on that?

Back in the 90s the industry was built around selling records. The most effective way of accomplishing that was to sign with a major record Company, land songs on mainstream radio and tour extensively. This sold records and selling records meant more touring and touring meant more record sales and around we go.

Fast forward to today, for the most part we’re not buying records. We’re streaming singles. The concept of owning a cohesive group of songs with beautiful artwork has become an old concept. (I’m still a fan of the full package). So a lot more artists are out there touring. That seems to be where the revenue is. And this shift is happening while on demand entertainment formats like Netflix are competing for the same audience.

So the touring market has become more competitive. Add to this easily accessible recording technology enabling just about anyone to record so building a fan base has become a much more complicated and competitive industry.

This is what I’m learning as I go and there’s so much more to know. It’s hectic keeping it straight but it’s exciting and the challenge is part of the fun.

I’ve read a few interviews now where you said you never really saw yourself as a solo artist. The Canadian music biz thinks otherwise, however. Does this JUNO nomination help shift that viewpoint somewhat?

Well yeah, it’s such a great compliment. It’s a great boost. This kind of affirmation from your peers is so incredibly encouraging. I think it’s normal for me to always be a bit tentative. I was a follower for a long time because I had so much support and there were so many strong leaders in the family dynamic. So this has been a huge period of growth for me and I am sincerely grateful.

This really seems not like a new chapter in your book but, really, a whole new text. What is next for you?

I’m looking forward to attending the ECMAs and of course the Junos next month. David Tyson is coming up from LA to join me in celebrating our record.  To date I’ve released two music videos and plan to release a third this year. This video will be for the song Titanically and most of it was shot underwater.  I’m performing and I’m writing and making plans for another recording this year. I’ll keep you posted on developments as they unfold.  And I’m proudly doing my part as one of one hundred and fifty ambassadors for Canada 150 promoting Canada as a wonderfully diverse and inclusive place to visit.  It’s been an amazing year!

Groundswell Music Festival Concert Review

Halifax Bloggers

Supporting local is something we should all strive for whenever possible. This past weekend Groundswell Music Festivaltook local support to another level. Nova Scotia can feel a great deal of pride in the product that was displayed. Food, drinks, and of course, music, all from our beautiful province, thrilled the crowd from March 16-19.


Thursday night kicked off the weekend at the Spatz Theatre with a Celtic show for both young and old. Heather Rankin started things off promoting her new solo album “A Fine Line.” She took the stage and treated the audience to a multitude of songs written for said album, a few old Rankin Family tunes to keep the toes tapping, and in true Cape Breton fashion told a few stories for good measure. Recording her new album in L.A. lead to a few little fish in a big pond stories for the Mabou native. From a room at the extended-stay inn with an unexpected guest, to unanswered early morning knocks on the door from a unbeknownst friendly stranger, every story had a song to coincide. She closed her set out with the Rankins’ classic “Movin On” which had every butt in every seat dancing along.

After a short intermission, a surprise act graced the stage. Mitchell Poirier, from Inverness, won an up and comer’s opportunity to work with Mike Ryan (Town Heroes). He played two songs, one written with Mike Ryan (and his sound was incredibly apparent in the best way possible), and an acoustic instrumental track that left jaws agape. Though maybe not quite as long and moving as John Butler’s “Ocean”, it certainly drew influence from it, and if we’re lucky enough Poirier’s path will lead us down that road. Next up was the headliner Rawlins Cross.

Maybe known as the band your dad loved in the ’90s, these guys haven’t lost a step through the years. Their modernized blend of Celtic rock boomed through the auditorium, with all in attendance digging every note from every Celtic instrument ever made. Ian MacKinnon played every wind instrument imaginable, from bagpipes, to tin whistle, and pan flute alike. Yarns were spun of their highs of sending a video to MuchMusic in ’93 with a quart of dark rum and a couple of lobsters, leading to their video going #1 on the MuchMusic countdown. They closed the night with the help of Heather Rankin on their hit “Reel and Roll.” Night one in the books.

GroundSwell Music Festival: Night One

By John Sandham. Watch Magazine

So… I’m back at it again! Compared to festivals I’ve covered in the past, this one started out a bit differently. The Spatz Theatre at Citadel High School was the venue for night one of this festival whose organizers, GroundSwell Music, are focused on highlighting Nova Scotian talent and helping young, emerging musicians from the province. Mayor Mike Savage was in the house (and I’m pretty sure I saw him grooving in his seat to Rawlins Cross…).

Heather Rankin kicked off the evening. She’s a natural storyteller and joker, and I loved the simplicity of her music and accessibility of her lyrics. One of my favourites was “Down By the Sally Gardens,” which Heather joked was recorded before she went through puberty. Nevertheless, her voice more than held up all these years later. The stand-up bass, keyboard and guitar that accompanied her were the perfect compliment to her voice. Some other terrific numbers she performed: “The Way Life Goes,” and “We Walk as One,” Heather’s tribute to her family.

A digression (I always seem to mention my extended family in my reviews…): while browsing Twitter after her set, I discovered that Heather owns The Red Shoe Pub, a well-known establishment in Mabou, NS. I recognized it immediately, since my aunt has worked there for decades. I pointed this out on Twitter, which Heather responded to with this:

Anyway, like I said, one of the things GroundSwell does is promote young, up-and-coming Nova Scotian musicians. After intermission (which was a bit longer than it should have been, since local food and beer were being served in the lobby…), Mitch Poirier, a young musician from Inverness, took to the stage to play a few songs (one of which was co-written with Mike Ryan of The Town Heroes). He’s got a good voice, and I couldn’t help but notice his hairstyle was classic John Sandham circa late 2016 (EDIT: I’ll admit, he rocks it better than I ever did…). Without a doubt, the most exciting moment of his set was his second song – the microphone was put away and he played his entire guitar as an instrument, strumming, slapping, and picking his way to one heck of an ovation from the audience. I wish I had video of this to show, but alas, I have none.

And then, it was on to Rawlins Cross. My first thought, when I saw their setup? “HELL YES, THERE’S BAGPIPES.” And wow, did Ian McKinnon sure prove bagpipes can rock (although I already knew that). Another highlight? Brian Bourne playing the Chapman Stick, an instrument I had never seen before. Almost three decades after forming, these guys still kick ass, but can still take it down a notch or two when they need to, like on “A Matter of the Heart.”

Yesterday’s performances can be summed up in one word: nostalgic. The average age of the crowd was… much older than me. Although I initially thought the venue was an odd choice, it proved to be ideal for last night’s shows. Heather’s quiet power worked especially well for the Spatz Theatre. All in all, it was a great way to start the festival.

I’m expecting tonight to be a bit different. As one of the organizers of the festival predicted, “It’ll be messier.” After all, it is The Stanfields on St. Patrick’s Day, and Olympic Hall is… different than the Spatz. Should be fun.