Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Echoes of Kenny Rankin

I do not remember why Manoling Francisco, Jandi Arboleda and I insisted to include PUSSYWILLOWS CATTAILS among the songs in ECHOES, a song book we were asked to put together in 1979 by the Knights for Christ for use in masses at the Ateneo de Manila Grade School. Maybe we were just too young to understand what constituted liturgical music (we were barely 13 years old). Maybe we thought it possessed a lovely meditative melody. Maybe we felt that listening to it was a divine experience.

But I do remember growing in a house where the song and other tracks popularized by Kenny Rankin would play frequently from my sister's phonograph. I would laze around on the carpet after chores, staring at the ceiling but fully absorbing the haunting tunes of HOUSE OF GOLD, WHEN SUNNY GETS BLUE, and THROUGH THE EYE OF THE EAGLE. And when my sister gave birth to my niece, Selene, it was no surprise that among the first songs that the kid learned to sing was HERE'S THAT RAINY DAY.

Soon, a sale in the 80s at the music bar of Ali Mall allowed me to start my own collection of Kenny Rankin albums. And so with my little savings, I purchased the cassettes of LIKE A SEED, SILVER MORNING, THE KENNY RANKIN ALBUM, and AFTER THE ROSES all at once. But more recently, I was ecstatic to receive from fellow musician Gino Torres, Rankin's A CHRISTMAS ALBUM, and to discover on a shelf of hard-to-find CDs, the artist's covers of Brazilian music in the album HERE IN MY HEART.

Apart from Rankin's buoyant and beautiful melodies, what has drawn me to the artist all these years is his unique timbre--one so calm yet penetrative. It is rich without being flamboyant, unassuming and yet inspiring. Supple and pristine. His tenor is as innocent and playful as a child's (he was discovered by his music teacher who felt his rendition of O HOLY NIGHT in a Christmas pageant was lovely). And his personal interpretation of tunes allows us to experience tired songs in a whole new vibrant light (when John Lennon and Paul McCartney were inducted to the Songwriters Hall of Fame, McCartney requested that Rankin represent the duo by virtue of Rankin's exquisite recordings of BLACKBIRD and PENNY LANE).

Rankin himself reveals the secret. "My interpretation of the songs is purely emotional," he explains. "I've been accused of straying from the melody, but when I sing, I'm feeling, not thinking."

It is a pity that Kenny Rankin has passed away (he died last June 7, just 3 weeks after his lung cancer was detected). I never did get to catch any of his performances in Manila, and I had always yearned to watch him live. Luckily I have my cassettes intact. Oh yes, and a few of my own songs have been inspired by the man's talents. I guess he breathes through some of us still.

Below, find two live performances from Kenny Rankin. The first is PEACEFUL in the late 60s, a song that became a huge hit for Helen Reddy. The second is a fairly recent version of his classic, HAVEN'T WE MET.