Wailin’ Jennys overcome name confusion
It was an unwanted lesson in bad timing that hit Winnipeg three-piece folk act the Wailin’ Jennys after its members settled on its cutesy and seemingly inoffensive name in February It was an unwanted lesson in bad timing that hit Winnipeg three-piece folk act the Wailin’ Jennys after its members settled on its cutesy and seemingly inoffensive name in February.
Hastily named by a Winnipeg promoter after country superstar Waylon Jennings, the group wasn’t exactly looking to pay tribute to the aging country star. But they didn’t mean to offend either. Yet shortly afterwards, Jennings expired at the age of 64 just as the "Jennys" were schmoozing at a music conference in Florida.
"It was bad timing," said Cara Luft, one of the vocalists of the all-female folk act. "We were at this huge conference and people were actually angry at us. They thought we were making fun of him or something."
Of course, part of the confusion may have been that the Wailin’ Jennys, while including the odd Emmylou Harris cover in their repertoire, are a far cry from the road-weary outlaw music of Jennings.
Boasting three-part harmonies, a love of Celtic music and an acoustic-based sound, the Wailin’ Jennys has gone beyond a part-time pursuit for Luft, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody and eclipsed their individual solo careers.
Launched six months ago, the act was put together for a few odd shows in Winnipeg when the band’s infectious sound caught on in that city’s healthy folk circles.
"The word just kind of spread and it exploded a little bit," said Luft. "Three of us had our little followings and people thought the idea of three of us together would work really well."
So, after quickly recording a demo tape of six songs, the trio put together a repertoire and embarked on a tour of southern Ontario. This summer they have become a popular attraction at various folk festivals, including the Ottawa Folk Festival and Blue Skies near Kingston.
"At first we brought in songs that were fun to sing, that was the whole purpose," Luft said. "For those first two shows in Winnipeg we brought Emmylou Harris, Julie Miller — I brought a Kim Mitchell song to the group as a joke. Now that we are playing more and more we’ve cut back on the covers and brought in more originals."
Writing individually, Luft, Moody and Mehta cover a lot of bases as songwriters. Luft brings more upbeat rock songs to the fold. Moody, who once played with Juno-nominated Celtic act Scruj MacDuhk, brings a love of Celtic while Mehta covers traditional ballads with her writing.
But Luft suggests it’s the band’s sound, and its reliance on harmony vocals, that sets them apart.
"There is a resurgence in harmony singing and everything that sounds somewhat traditional," she said. "I don’t know how else to explain the sudden interest in our stuff."
But the trio tend to take advantage of it. They will be recording a debut album in the fall and Luft said she hopes to be able to co-write with her co-Jennys for the release.
In its six months of existence, the band has really only played together three months because of other responsibilities as solo performers.
"The dilemma is that we need to get all this new material and we haven’t had time to write it," she said. "People keep asking us and we tell them we’ve only been together for three months. We haven’t had time."