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Tell me about the Jennys!
You could say that it was like three winding roads merging in the night, coming into the light and becoming a newly laid path The Wailin’ Jennys aren’t complaining about their busy touring schedule You could say that it was like three winding roads merging in the night, coming into the light and becoming a newly laid path. About a year ago, Ruth Moody, Cara Lyft, and Nicky Mehta came together in Winnipeg and haven’t looked back since-and the whirlwind that has taken them through two albums and countless folk festivals in the last year shows no signs of slowing. They’ve already got a third record planned for a release next spring.
All three women are veteran folk musicians, all of whom were successfully pursuing individual music careers when they were asked to do a one-off show at Winnipeg’s Sled Dog Music as a trio called The Wailin Jennys. At the time, they didn’t think of the gig as anything more than a one-night stand; the threesome just wanted to have some fun together and gathered their best work as well as their favorite songs to cover-Emmylou Harris’s "Deeper Well" was one song all three were enthusiastic about. The number landed not only on the Sled Dog setlist that night, but also on the self-titled debut EP that soon followed. "One thing that I particularly find fascinating," says Mehta, "is how creatively fulfilling it is to arrange even covers. You sort of think only original stuff is really creative, but the actual process of putting together a song and making it your own and adding new instrumentation is an incredibly creative and neat thing."
As three individual and independent artists, the Wailin’ Jennys have managed not only to nurture their own talents but to learn and explore their art together. Luft’s experience growing up with musician parents helps on the road. Moody brings her Celtic background to the band’s sound. Mehta’s academic knowledge allows an intuitive perspective of the issues. But at the end of the day, they all share the song. "We have a very easy working relationship, largely because we are such different artists and we all have very different styles," says Mehta. "It’s never about who’s the best guitar player, because, I mean, Cara is clearly the best guitar player in our group. But everyone has their own style and everyone has their own way of writing and they’re all equally valid in very different ways. We enhance each other’s weaknesses and play off each other’s strengths, so it’s really neat that way."
At least they didn’t call themselves the Engorged Joans
The women didn’t even invent the group’s name, but they’ve come to appreciate its pros and cons. "It’s a play on Waylon Jennings," says Mehta, "which a lot of people don’t get immediately, but it also causes tremendous confusion because people think they’re hearing ‘Waylon Jennings.’ We were booked into a hotel in Ottawa for the Ottawa Folk Festival and they couldn’t find us on the register. We were going to through our last names and Jennys and Wailin’ and everything. They found us under Waylon Jennings. Someone from the hotel had actually phoned the festival asking if Waylon Jennings was playing."
Mehta makes a further point of saying that they adopted the name about three weeks before the country singer passed away last year. "When we went down to the Folk Alliance (in Florida)," she says, "it was a little dicey because people maybe thought it was disrespectful. We had a few people saying maybe we should learn one of his songs and we certainly intend to when we get a chance. But it’s interesting how much interest the name itself has generated and that’s something again we just happened upon. We had people coming to our showcase that didn’t know who we were but just loved the name. So you can’t ask for anything better than that.