Mermaids makes it three in a row of masterful wracked and raw country folk and rock from North Carolina’s Michael Rank. In the past two years he’s released the guitar splattered double album Kin and the more restrained and desolate In The Weeds . Mermaids completes this triumvirate and carries on from where In The Weeds left off with Rank accompanied by Emily Frantz and many of the same musicians who graced Weeds with what is a bona fide tortured country classic. High praise indeed but over the course of four discs Rank has proved that he and his compadres have the ability to conjure up a twisted, wrecked and broken world peopled by heartbroken folk, drifters and losers who are offered a sense of grace and dignity through Rank’s wonderful drawl.
Mermaids features 11 songs that stagger wonderfully with excellent musicianship that is able to seemingly teeter on the brink of collapse echoing the lyrical despair in the words. It’s a fragile beauty with John Teer’s fiddle, Alex Inglehort’s guitar and Nathan Golub’s pedal steel all part of the glue that sticks it together and over the course of the album they coalesce until the sound flows like molasses, slow, hesitant, finding a course and dripping little by little. The end result is an almost narcotic trawl through stark country meanderings, a blissed out band of despair. Imagine if you will Keef leaving the Stones in ’69 and joining The Band and recording with Neil Young frying honeyslides in the kitchen…………well, OK, it’s not that good but at Blabber’n’Smoke we’re in love with all three of Rank’s releases.
Rank, Frantz and a tin can guitar waltz wearily through the opening Stray as a star crossed couple who return throughout the album trading love lines, sometimes together, sometimes estranged. Shot of Gold opens with “Well I hear you got a man, well I guess he holds your hand, like I wanna,” as the band evoke a very laid back Stray Gator sound with the pedal steel fat and sinuous while a mandolin strums away. Bound To Me is another duet, a tender and affectionate love song with Frantz stealing the show and some very evocative fiddle from Teer. They top this however with their next duet on Totem, a heartache in words and music which pulls at the heartstrings as Teer again adds his plaintive fiddle and the band pluck tenderly around the words. Sublime is a good enough word to describe Totem and Rank and his buddies come close to matching this on all of the songs here. A few move into a faster pace such as Coming Hard which is a spritely hillbilly romp with muscular guitar and mandolin while Teer gives his fiddle a raspy country sound but it’s the still, deep waters of the slow moving songs that draw one in. Words of The Pilot, Devil I Know, Skin and the title song all deserve a paragraph of their own but by now you’ll either want to hear the album or have switched off. You can listen to and buy the album from Rank’s Bandcamp page and if you have ears and something in between you’ll surely pony up and maybe someday he’ll pay us a visit in the UK. There’s an interview with Rank discussing the album here