What more gentler way could be needed to ease you into a new year than the cherubic tones of Canadian folk super group The Wailin' Jennys. Maybe prolific is not a tag to label this loose trio, with each recording over their fifteen-year existence being as sparse in its frequency as to the sound it heavily relies on. However, to get notification that an ‘out the blue’ recording was to hit the shelves here in the UK in the first week of January was the perfect tonic to launch another twelve months of music musings. FIFTEEN may not win prizes for subtleties in the album title, but who is judging when the harmonious voices of Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse are in unison.
Nine tracks and thirty-five minutes is not a too demanding task to savour the elegance of this release. To think about it, doubling both factors would hardly be an arduous act, but let’s not get greedy and just rejoice that the trio are back in recording mode for the first time since 2011. Not that the intervening years haven’t been musically fertile, with perhaps more focus on the solo work of Ruth Moody. On the other hand, there is something soothing about the sensitive harmony and this record has plenty to feast on.
The subject material for this anniversary release has steered away from the original song. Dips into the traditional domain, coupled with both familiar and unfamiliar covers from a broad range of artists have proved rich pickings for an album once again released under the True North Records umbrella; an outlet for so much good Canadian music over the years. For the pick of the tracks, it is hard to look past their take on the Emmylou Harris classic ‘Boulder to Birmingham’. Maybe, this is far from a left field choice, but the version stays true to the eminence of the original with just the slightest of subtle twists on the chorus focal line.
|Photo by Morten Fog|
Closely following this highlight is an A Capella take on Dolly Parton’s ‘Light of a Clear Blue Morning’, which lifts the listener into a crystal stratosphere. If you think the sources for the first two mentioned tracks are cut from a certain crust, subsequent leanings towards the works of Tom Petty, Patty Griffin, Paul Simon and Warren Zevon in other offerings, confirm the legendary status of the influences. Perhaps, the most interesting addition to the line-up, is the post-humus Hank Williams song, ‘Weary Blues from Waitin’’, which closes the album in the same distinguished way that it opened half hour previously.
That opening moment is more in-synch with the trademark Wailin' Jennys that we were introduced to via their seminal recordings of the mid-2000s. The traditional ‘Old Churchyard’ has a very English feel to it, a sound that graced many a venue over here during the period when the group were more active on the live front. One significant evening from their many tours of the day was a show at the Huntingdon Hall in Worcester, complete with a stunning version of ‘The Parting Glass’ ensuring the gig memory never faded. Despite a couple of early line-up changes with Cara Luft and Annabelle Chvostek passing through on the way to successful solo careers, the current trio of Ruth, Nicky and Heather has been in place for around a decade and maybe the issuing of FIFTEEN can herald a new age of overseas Wailin’ Jennys touring.
A bold start to a new era is doused in the timeless and minimalist serenity that soaks the songs bestowed with the glorious Wailin' Jennys treatment. If you want three blended voices to take with you on your musical excursion then this trio will most oblige. An unblemished start to what will undoubtedly be another fine year of inspirational music.
1. Old Churchyard (3:15)
2. Wildflowers (3:42)
3. The Valley (5:48)
4. Light of a Clear Blue Morning (4:27)
5. Loves Me Like a Rock (2:26)
6. Boulder to Birmingham (3:20)
7. Not Alone (4:39)
8. Keep Me in Your Heart (3:37)
9. Weary Blues From Waitin’ (3:13)
More album info