Is there still a niche in popular music for an '80s-style masculine rock balladeer? The continued success of mid-tempo, middle-of-the-road acts such as the Goo Goo Dolls, Bon Jovi and Train suggests there's an endless supply of office-working suburbanites lapping that stuff up like a cat does milk.
Enter Anthony Rankin, a recent graduate of Duquesne University's music school. Unlike music students with their hearts set on a classical or jazz career, Rankin clearly wants to be a mainstream rock star. His third CD, The Distance, could be a breakthrough. It leads with "Under the Radar," carefully crafted for pheromonal appeal and hook smarts; it's easy to imagine it as a surprise rock-radio hit. Rankin also totes gentler, rootsy numbers with slide guitar and harmonica that'll work similar wonders in Triple-A and country-crossover. With their cries of "save me" and "mend my wings," excerpts might even fit a melodramatic TV soundtrack, perhaps at just the moment when the hero stares wistfully across a wheat field, his hair blowing in the wind, as the girl drives away in his best friend's pickup truck.
But Rankin's not just a pretty face and charismatic belter. True, guided by ace producer Rick Witkowski (Crack The Sky, The Shanks), this is some highly produced music. But on most of The Distance, Rankin plays all the keyboard and guitar parts, occasionally offering blistering guitar leads on tracks like the swaying, soulful "Whatever It Takes."
It's that multi-talented-wunderkind aspect which is most likely to sustain him over the long haul. Chances of becoming a radio staple are a thousand to one, but if Rankin can crank out even one smash that jumps to easy-listening longevity -- like, for example, Mr. Mister did -- he'll be set. It's mere coincidence, probably, that the penultimate song on The Distance is "Broken Wings."
Anthony Rankin CD-release show with Pat Vulgamore 9 p.m. Thu., Oct. 4 Hard Rock Café, Station Square. $5. 412-481-ROCK