Silver Morning (Kenny Rankin)

Silver Morning
(Kenny Rankin)

Flashback 1975: Disco was starting to raise its (in)famous head. The airwaves were filling up with the likes of Van McCoy’s “The Hustle”, Carl Douglas’ “Kung Fu Fighting”, Gaynor’s “Never Can say Goodbye”. On another front, you had the Pop Superstars like Stevie Wonder and Elton John monopolizing the Grammys.

Then suddenly, amidst the barrage of all these pop/dance profusion comes an album like breath of fresh air.
This album was a pleasant confusion when I first heard it. . . is this Jazz or folk/pop/rock? Trying to read the liner notes didn’t help either. Credits go to the likes of John Sebastian (Lovin’ Spoonful), Deniece Williams (R&B/Jazz diva), Jim Gordon (Derek & the Dominoes), etc..

At the height of the singer/songwriter period, Kenny Rankin quietly became one of the key voices of the genre. Although coming a few years after JT’s Sweet Baby James and carol King’s Tapestry, Silver Morning ranks as one of the best and most representative albums of that time. Rankin does a fine job covering Gordon Lightfoot’s “Pussywillows, Cat Tails“, but he really shines on his reworkings of the Beatles’ songbook. His vocal and guitar arrangements on Lennon and McCartney’s “Blackbird,” and particularly on “Penny Lane,” show him to be one of the best interpreters of the Beatles’ music. Paul McCartney, impressed by Rankin’s treatment of the Beatles’ material, asked him to represent the group when they were inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame. Rankin performed a medley of Beatles classics during the ceremony.
Moreover, in lending the songs his distinctive sound, they transcend being mere cover versions. The cut “Haven’t We Met” (also recorded by both Carmen Mcrae and Mel Torme) illustrate his continued ability not only to play wonderful guitar and sing like an angel, but also to write great songs. This is easily one of Rankin’s best albums in my collection.

In 1962 Rankin heard an album by Joao Gilberto and was so inspired by the Brazilian artist that he immediately went out and bought a guitar and taught himself to play. Three years later, Rankin was in the studio with Bob Dylan, playing rhythm guitar on “Subterranean Homesick Blues” and “Maggie’s Farm” for the landmark Bring It All Back Home album.

It’s a pity that innovative artists such as Rankin are hard to come by nowadays.

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