The Wailin’ Jennys – 40 Days
This is the best folk trio record since “Cry Cry Cry” in 1998, hands down. Canadian singer-songwriters Cara Luft, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody together evoke that “greater than the sum of its parts” feeling in 13 tracks This is the best folk trio record since “Cry Cry Cry” in 1998, hands down. Canadian singer-songwriters Cara Luft, Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody together evoke that “greater than the sum of its parts” feeling in 13 tracks.
Unlike the approach taken by “Cry Cry Cry,” these three highlight their own songs — not songs from other songwriters. They divide the songwriting duties evenly — each gets credit for three songs. Two of the remaining cuts are traditional and sound it: “Saucy Sailor” and the closing song, “The Parting Glass." The other two are a heart-stopping cover of Neil Young’s “Old Man” and an inscrutable cover of John Hiatt’s “Take it Down.” More on that later.
The record is big on common folk themes, big on big ideas and big on the big sound of three big beautiful voices. In a word, you could say it’s big.
Nicky Mehta’s beautiful song, “Arlington,” for example, has a universal, traditional feeling in its lyrics — a sign of a well-crafted song that has considerable staying power. Drawing on simple, natural images, she asks some very deep questions about existence, belief and faith. “Where is your home, restless wind?” she asks. “Is your voice every tree? Your soul of the air?”
Ruth Moody’s “Beautiful Dawn” uses lyrical structure to good advantage with her refrain, “There’s only one way to mend a broken heart.”
And Cara Luft’s simple three-verse “Come All You Sailors” is an elegant example of her ability to take a traditional-sounding theme and turn it into a folk gem.
Now, as to the selection of the John Hiatt song, his declaration that the Stars and Bars of the Confederacy have no place in today’s world, or flying over the South Carolina statehouse, all I can ask is why the Jennys felt compelled to cover it on their first American release? Do they understand the implications of this song? It’s one thing for Indianapolis-born, Nashville-based John Hiatt to sing this song. With him, it has a context, a depth of meaning. It loses a bit of impact re-crossing the Canadian border. It is the solitary lapse on a brilliant record.