Monday, March 25, 2013

REVIEW - Michael Rank and Stag, "In the Weeds"

Michael Rank 2nd from left, with Stag

The photo above is instructive as it captures the essence of In the Weeds, a tremendous piece of ensemble playing that builds upon Michael Rank's 2012 release Kin. Rank has assembled some of the best musicians in North Carolina and they play these 10 songs about heartbreak with passion and energy, diving deep into acoustic country music without leaving behind the rock'n'roll go-for-the-throat attitude of the bands they came from (which include two of the best in NC history – Snatches of Pink and the Backsliders).

While this is an all star cast, they play as a single unit where the fiddle, banjo, mandolin, pedal steel, lap steel, bass, guitar, drum sounds and vocals fit together organically and sound like a real band not a bunch of great players adding their piece to somebody's record. 

Here's the opening track 'Round My Head:

And an excellent  live version of 'Round My Head:

One of my favorites here is "Confederates", a duet between Rank and Emily Frantz who I had not heard before (from the band Mandolin Orange). She has a lovely warm voice that serves as the perfect contrast to Rank's raspy rock'n'roll tone. Listen to "Confederates" here:

This CD should come with a warning though - if you are reeling from the love of your life walking out on you, these songs will either be the purest recognition of what you are going through (and thereby therapeutic), or they may send you straight over the edge. There are lines like this throughout:

You're the only girl I'll ever want
You're in every song I wrote
It's Christmas time, but that don't matter to you
I still hear your footsteps each time you walk away
If only you would kiss me again
If only would let me be your man

And the clincher: 

And I thank god for our son

Rank puts it all out there in a way that might surprise those of us who first came to his music in the late 1980's when Snatches of Pink ruled the roost in Chapel Hill.  Petulant, snarling young Michael Rank didn't reveal much about himself and might not recognize this songwriter now baring his soul about raising his young son. This batch of songs, as well as those on last year's release Kin (reviewed here), are courageous and powerful.  But still, Rank maintains what I've always loved about him - his swagger and great feel for the power of rock'n'roll, in this case with a big dose of rootsy twang, something his hero Keith Richards knows a thing or two about as well.   In the words of another great Southern rock song from the 1980's, Rank is scarred but smarter.  

In The Weeds comes from the heart in all regards - lyrics, spirit, performances - and that makes it a powerful work, one that will stick with you. 

I would recommend following Michael Rank on Facebook, where you get information about his music, but also thoughts on the NCAA basketball tourney, updates on the house he is building, and other good stuff.  

Michael Rank web page.

No comments: