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Coming to town

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It's the same approach to standards taken by Cassandra Wilson and Norah Jones; then again Rankin has been doing it for the past two decades. (And Joni Mitchell perhaps first and best of all.) In "Song for You" he draws on a wide range of sources, including Thelonious Monk, Gershwin, Lennon/McCartney and, for the title song, Leon Russell.

Rankin's style has a Brazilian tinge, with jazz-inflected acoustic guitar and accompanying vocals that walk the tightrope between strength and delicacy. While some of the interpretations are straightforward, "Round Midnight" becomes an unlikely Latin romp, and the Beatles' hit "I Just Saw a Face" is transformed with similar pretzel logic.

While his "soft" approach might tend to put him into the lightweight "smooth jazz" category, the serious jazz pedigree of the recording is enhanced with the performance of a number of great players, including Christian McBride, Chris Potter, Roy Hargrove, Russell Malone and Lewis Nash. There is also a string section to add washes of tasteful lyric beauty as required.

In the end, it all depends on one guy and his guitar. Rankin is a very good singer and guitarist, able to engage an audience without attitude or amplification.

— Peter

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