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following the voices with Norman Warwick

It´s funny how as we plan our future work, (yes, we do !) a thread becomes evident that weaves it together in ways we hadn´t consciously previously thought about. The latest trend in this has emerged this year, knotting together our classical, country, Americana and folk music reviews with various of our correspondents noting the familial harmony vocals of Phil and Don Everly, and we would remind you that Amazon still have available ¨Fifty Years Of Their Hits, (see cover photo) the eerie pitch perfect layers of Dolly, Emmylou and Linda on the TRIO albums, the uncanny, and strangely careless-seeming precision of the violin playing in Iya Zhmaeva and her 18 year old son Diego Bermudez (left).

Of course, other music media outlets notice such things too. In fact, American Songwriter recently identified the distinct musical influences that pass down from father to son and back up again. The American Songwriter  journalist, Clayton Edwards, cited as a case in point, Willie Nelson and his two musical sons.

Willie Nelson (right) is a country music icon. A lauded singer, songwriter, and musician, Nelson has influenced generations of artists. However, his influence is most evident in his sons—Lukas and Micah Nelson. Both have their own musical careers with Lukas fronting Promise of the Real and Micah  fronting Particle Kid. The three Nelson men occupy different musical spaces. Sometimes, though, they come together for unforgettable performances.

Willie, Lukas, and Micah have shared stages and studio spaces several times over the years. Below are four of their most memorable collaborations.

On Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain, Willie, Lukas, and Micah Nelson Take on a classic.

Written by Fred Rose, “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was Willie Nelson’s first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot Country Singles chart. It also broke into the all-genre  Hot 100, peaking at No. 21. More than that, the song holds a special place in the Nelson family.

In a video from 2020, Willie, Lukas, and Micah Nelson perform the song in a studio session. Before playing the song, Micah reveals why it’s important to him. He points out that “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain” was the first song Willie taught him when he was a child. “I remember asking you what you wanted for your birthday. I was like 10 or 11. You were like, ‘You know what would make me happy is if you learned to play guitar.’ And I took that to heart,” he recalled.

Then, the proud dad said, “Sing it,” and Micah did as the other two Nelson men backed him on their acoustic guitars and sang harmony.

Always On My Mind is a song with which Willie and the boys shared the stage on Father’s Day. On June 16, 2019, the Outlaw Music Festival Tour landed in Hartford, Connecticut at the Xfinity Theatre. That night saw many artists giving great performances. However, few were as memorable as Willie, his boys, Bobbie, and the band performing “Always on My Mind” together.

Willie and Lukas Nelson have also covered Pearl Jam´s Just Breathe.  

Written by Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam released “Just Breathe” as the second single from their 2009 album Backspacer. It was a No. 1 hit on the Adult Alternative Airplay chart, spending 13 weeks at the top. It also peaked at No. 6 on the publication’s Alternative Airplay chart.

Willie and Lukas Nelson performed a country version of the song during Farm Aid in 2013. You can find their interpretation on You Tube.

Willie and the Boys have also come together to pay tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan.

Texas has produced several legendary musicians through the years. Among them was electric blues icon Stevie Ray Vaughan. “Texas Flood” is one of SRV’s signature songs. Originally released in 1958 by Larry Davis, Vaughan made it the title track of his 1983 debut album. He transformed the song, changing the key and adding several sections of improvised soloing.

During the 2004 Farm Aid concert, Lukas took on lead guitar and vocal duties for the song while Micah played percussion and Willie played rhythm guitar on Trigger. The performance shows that Willie has no problem stepping back and letting his boys shine.

My own favourite examples of these familial sounds of harmony and content belong to The Rankins (left), a group I first heard in the nineteen nineties.

The Rankins come from a family of 12 siblings, all of whom would entertain the neighbours musically every third weekend as part of a cèilidh. The first Rankin Family band formed in the 1970s when siblings Geraldine, Genevieve, David, John Morris, and Raylene Rankin began performing at local weddings and dances in Cape Breton. As the older siblings went away to college and university, the younger siblings Jimmy, Cookie and Heather took their places.

On January 16, 2000, John Morris Rankin was killed in a car accident in Cape Breton Island. His daughter Molly Rankin is now a musician, and is lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist for the indie pop band Alvvays.

In the spring of 2000 Heather Rankin joined Carly Simon on her New York City promotional tour for Simon’s record The Bedroom Tapes, and appeared with Simon on the Rosie O’Donnell show.

Jimmy Rankin has continued to write songs and has released five solo albums: Song Dog (2001), Handmade (2003), Edge of Day (2007), Forget About the World (2011), and Back Road Paradise (2014).

Raylene Rankin released the solo albums Lambs in Spring (2004) and all the diamonds (2011) and lives in Nashville.

Heather Rankin released the solo albums A Fine Line (2016) and Imagine (2017); the first album included a cover of the Tears for Fears hit Everybody Wants To Rule The World featuring Halifax rapper, Quake Matthews. When not performing on their own, the sisters run The Red Shoe pub in Mabou.

One of the founders of the group, Geraldine Coyne (Rankin), died January 10, 2007, the result of a brain aneurysm, at her home in Calgary. She had not performed with the group since prior to the first recordings’ being released.

On January 16, 2007, the album Reunion was released, and in 2009 the Rankin Family released their seventh studio album, These Are The Moments.

On June 3, 2012, Raylene Rankin appeared on CBC Radio’s The Sunday Edition where she spoke about her decade-long struggle with cancer. She died of metastatic breast cancer on September 30, 2012.

I saw the Rankins perform live two or three times in the UK in the nineties, with a performance by the entire family at Wolverhampton Civic Hall being the most memorable, with its Irish-influenced dancing and any number of sea shanties. Although in those days their records were difficult to get hold of in our UK High Street record stores, I would pick up anything new on my 150 mile round trip to Ryan´s Records, tucked away in a lawn-mower repair shop in Pen Y Cae, a tiny village in North Wales.

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