A big frustration among music critics is trying to write about singers and musicians who are marvelous with music but can't talk about what they do.

That's never been a problem with singer Kenny Rankin.This tidbit, for instance, on pop music: "The key to being a pop singer is an infectious sound. It's all interpretive. Pop singers are trapeze artists, they have to get out there and swing for it. You create illusions. You take aspects of the tonal system, add lyrics designed to carve out an image, add some suggestive lighting and presto, an illusion."

Rankin is in town at Ninos Cabaret, 136 E. South Temple, to do two shows on Friday at 7 and 10 p.m., then two more on Saturday. (Call 359-0501 for information.)

But the singer is killing more than one bird with this trip. He's also here to showcase his new album, "Hiding in Myself," to sing the national anthem at the Jazz game last Wednesday, to do some skiing and let the locals meet his new collaborator and lyricist, his wife Aime Ulrich Rankin.

After half a dozen years of lying low, Rankin is back after it again. He's working and traveling hard.

And for fans of good vocal styling and well-written songs, that's big news.

Rankin's history has been well-documented. A New York kid full of street savvy, he's shown up at the right time and right place for everyone's career, it seems, but his own. He played on "Bringing It All Back Home" when Bob Dylan first went electric. He turned down "Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny Yellow Polka Dot Bikini" and let Bryan Hyland run with the song because he didn't want to do novelty numbers. He's been there at key times with Jimi Hendrix, with the jazz greats, even with football tackle John Matuzak.

And all the time he's hovered just out of the limelight. He developed a "cult" following (a word Rankin frowns at), and he became the singing hero for thousands of "listeners in the know."

Now, he's taking another run at the brass ring. With luck, he'll get it.

"Being called `underrated' or `unappreciated' just spurs me on," he said in a Deseret News interview. "My career decisions have always been from the heart. And I'm pretty single-minded about staying the course."

Rankin's new album, "Hiding in Myself," is full of the vocal felicity listeners have come to love in his work. There are some Marvin Gaye tunes, a Jimmy Webb number, but most of the songs are by Rankin and his new wife, Aime. Her poetry and impetus are partly responsible for Rankin being back at it.

"I began by writing linear notes, then ghost writing speeches," she says. "When I wrote poetry it was just for me. At first Kenny didn't want to share his music with me and I didn't want to share my poems with him, but things began to come together when we finally did."

Aime's lyrics add an earthiness - a salty quality - to Rankin's repertoire. ("We can't help but write from life," he explains. "Disney's got the fantasy thing covered.") But behind the new lyrics, behind the new promotion, the interesting anecdotes and new dreams, there's still that old, supple Rankin voice. And behind the voice, there's always jazz.

"I draw on all kinds of music," he says, "but jazz, well, it's probably the most thought-out music there is. It takes more guts to sing improvisation than any other kind of music. People who think jazz is thoughtless don't know. It's anything but thoughtless."

For now, Rankin sees a lot of good things in his future. And no one's doubting. He has a reputation as a fortune teller.

Wednesday afternoon, for instance, he mentioned that every time he sings the national anthem for a sporting event, the home team always wins.

Wednesday night he sang, and the Jazz kicked Houston by more than 30 points.