Jennys’ goal: Never compromise
They are compared to The Dixie Chicks, but The Wailin’ Jennys play the music they like best They are compared to The Dixie Chicks, but The Wailin’ Jennys play the music they like best.
In the music business, few shortcuts to success are known to exist. But of the methods used to make an instant impression with audiences, perhaps one of the best is to cover a Neil Young song — a hit from his beloved 1973 recording, Harvest, if possible.
The members of the Wailin’ Jennys weren’t looking to fast-track their careers when they recorded Young’s hit Old Man during the sessions for their debut, 40 Days. They simply enjoyed the song, having first performed it two years ago during the Prairie Music Awards in Winnipeg for a tribute in Young’s honour.
Ruth Moody, one of a trio of singers who fronts the Winnipeg folk band, is certainly happy with the attention Old Man has given them. But at the same time, she’s perplexed by it. "The biggest surprise, I guess, is that Old Man was picked up by country radio."
Vancouver radio station JR Country got the ball rolling with the song, Moody says, prompting other stations in Canada to follow suit. The song rose to No. 45 on the Canadian country charts. "I still don’t know how to explain that," Moody says.
The band’s debut full-length recording, which was produced by Victoria native David-Travers Smith, has catapulted the Wailin’ Jennys to a newfound level of success, capped by a nomination in the country category at the upcoming Canadian Independent Music Awards and nominations for outstanding album (independent) and outstanding roots recording at the upcoming Western Canadian Music Awards.
Better yet, it’s all been done on their terms, Moody adds.
"Our goal is to never compromise our musical integrity," she says. "We’re going to play the music we want to play, and if people want to include us in a certain genre, and for whatever reason it fits, then that’s fine with us."
It’s a privileged position to be in. The group, which includes singers Nicky Mehta and Cara Luft, has a firm grip on both the roots and country genres. As a result, the trio’s effortless combination of acoustic instruments and soaring three-part harmonies has drawn comparisons to one of country music’s most successful groups, the Dixie Chicks.
"I see the obvious parallels for sure, with the three harmonies and the three females," Moody says. "I’d say there are a few songs we do that have that kind of country bluegrass vibe, but our music is a little more diverse."
The Wailin’ Jennys begin a tour in support of 40 Days Wednesday in Victoria, a city Moody has fond memories of. It was here, in December of 2002, that the then-unknown trio brought down the house with a genuine break-out performance. The concert was staged and hosted by local folkies The Bills, formerly the Bill Hilly Band, who were an early influence on Moody, Luft and Mehta.
The Bill Hilly Band shortened its name shortly after the performance — could there be a name change in store for the Wailin’ Jennys as well? Moody laughs aloud at the suggestion.
"We call ourselves The Jennys and a lot of people call us The Jennys, but we’ve always loved the name. We can’t take credit for the name, but I think we’re going to stick with it.