Michael Rank: Red Hand

Photo by Andy Tennille

Porter and Dolly. Johnny and June. Gram and Emmylou. Michael Rank and Heather McIntire. This is not an overstatement.

Michael Rank

Red Hand

US Release: 2016-07-27
UK Release: Import
Label: Loud Hymns

The opening tag to this review is a pretty strong statement, and it runs the risk of setting expectations too high. But on Red Hand Michael Rank and Heather McIntire meet those expectations handily.

They may not be inventing new sounds, but when Rank and McIntire twine their voices together, they are capable of meeting the masters on their turf and of holding their own. Rank’s gruff whisper pairs with McIntire’s crystalline purity to create an emotional core that echoes with all the intimacy and grace of the greats who have preceded them in country music’s heritage. They evoke that deep history and make it their own.

This is Rank and McIntire’s second collaboration, having sung together on Rank’s 2015 album Horsehair, one of that year’s strongest Americana releases. McIntire may be better known as the lead singer of Mount Moriah, whose How to Dance should appear on many lists of best Americana records for the current year. Rank is a rock and roll veteran, having fronted the twang-punk band Snatches of Pink for over a decade before settling into a solo career, often accompanied by the band Stag.

Where Horsehair was a breakup and aftermath record, the songs on Red Hand are more about picking up the pieces and rebuilding. Or trying to, at least. Album opener “River Road” sets that theme with its chorus of “doin’ alrights” filling in most of the spaces of a day, leaving less time for mournfulness or self-pity. Such a willfully upbeat mood that can also be heard on “Jakob”, where Rank and McIntire open with the line “I hear you’re doing a little better than you had been doing some time ago” leading to a chorus of acceptance in the present: “Tastes like honey / got these dreams filling up my mind / Hell, ain’t life funny? / We’re just two ghosts living on borrowed time." The album’s strongest evocation of persistence and genuine uplift comes with “Ninth House”, an optimistic sing-along that celebrates anyone who is willing to join the circle, whatever their origin. “And if you’re wrong and if you’re right / We will live here without blame / And if you’re black and if you’re white / I will love you all the same," they sing in a beautiful song of affirmation that might just be the album’s highlight.

But all is not healed, and the wounds still weep. “Fly away, little honey bee / I have been stung / My heart, it’s beating / But something has gone," they sing on “Milkweed”, a song of loss where Gabriele Pelli’s mournful violin deepens the mood of sorrow. “Forever and a Day” and “The Songs We Learned” broadcast nostalgic longing through a desire to hear songs from the past, as if those words and melodies could bring back the actuality of what once was. As on Horsehair, Rank’s songwriting is defined by a poetic plain-spokenness that hits home and hits hard in its simplicity. In “The Songs We Learned”, for example, they sing, “Is that Heaven calling? / Is that what you heard? / Things ain’t been easy / Down here on earth.” When, in the second refrain, Rank changes the line to “Things have been hard now/ Down here on earth” it’s that kind of soft-spoken earnestness that connects to pierce the heart (and McIntire’s keening voice on the repeat pretty much twists the knife).

Rank and McIntire sing these songs in unison rather than in response to each other. Rank’s practice of writing in the first person and addressing another directly -- ”I to you” -- creates a dual perspective in these shared vocals. Where Rank’s voice makes the first impression, McIntire’s strong and sympathetic co-vocals create a secondary sense of perspective. Where the male perspective might seek dominance, it is not granted sole authority here, for it is echoed by a simultaneously complementary and contradictory female viewpoint. These songs present the same words in different voices to enchanting effect.

On Red Hand, Michael Rank and Heather McIntire establish themselves as leaders among a growing number of young bands and performers building on the foundation of the classic duet singers of country music’s golden era. Fans of those past masters or of current acts like the Lowest Pair, the Mastertons, the Weeping Willows, or the Stray Birds will find much to enjoy here.





Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump Whitehouse -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

OK Go's Emotional New Ballad, "All Together Now", Inspired by Singer's Bout with COVID-19

Damian Kulash, lead singer for OK Go discusses his recent bout with COVID-19, how it impacted his family, and the band's latest pop delight, "All Together Now", as part of our Love in the Time of Coronavirus series.


The Rules Don't Apply to These Nonconformist Novelists

Ian Haydn Smith's succinct biographies in Cult Writers: 50 Nonconformist Novelists You Need to Know entice even seasoned bibliophiles.


Siren Songs' Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels Debut As a Folk Duo (album stream + interview)

Best friends and longtime musical collaborators Merideth Kaye Clark and Jenn Grinels team up as Siren Songs for the uplifting folk of their eponymous LP.


Buzzcocks' 1993 Comeback 'Trade Test Transmissions' Showed Punk's Great Survivors' Consistency

PopMatters' appraisal of Buzzcocks continues with the band's proper comeback LP, Trade Test Transmissions, now reissued on Cherry Red Records' new box-set, Sell You Everything.


Archie Shepp, Raw Poetic, and Damu the Fudgemunk Enlighten and Enliven with 'Ocean Bridges'

Ocean Bridges is proof that genre crossovers can sound organic, and that the term "crossover" doesn't have to come loaded with gimmicky connotations. Maybe we're headed for a world in which genres are so fluid that the term is dropped altogether from the cultural lexicon.


Claude McKay's 'Romance in Marseille' Is Ahead of Its Time

Claude McKay's Romance in Marseille -- only recently published -- pushes boundaries on sexuality, disability, identity -- all in gorgeous poetic prose.


Christine Ott Brings the Ondes Martenot to New Heights with the Mesmerizing 'Chimères'

France's Christine Ott, known for her work as an orchestral musician and film composer, has created a unique new solo album, Chimères, that spotlights an obscure instrument.


Man Alive! Is a Continued Display of the Grimy-Yet-Refined Magnetism of King Krule

Following The OOZ and its accolades, King Krule crafts a similarly hazy gem with Man Alive! that digs into his distinct aesthetic rather than forges new ground.


The Kinks and Their Bad-Mannered English Decency

Mark Doyles biography of the Kinks might complement a seminar in British culture. Its tone and research prove its intent to articulate social critique through music for the masses.


ONO Confronts American Racial Oppression with the Incendiary 'Red Summer'

Decades after their initial formation, legendary experimentalists ONO have made an album that's topical, vital, uncomfortable, and cathartic. Red Summer is an essential documentation of the ugliness and oppression of the United States.


Silent Women Filmmakers No Longer So Silent: Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers

The works of silent filmmakers Alice Guy Blaché and Julia Crawford Ivers were at risk of being forever lost. Kino Lorber offers their works on Blu-Ray. Three cheers for film historians and film restoration.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.