CD Reviews 

Firecracker – The Wailin’Jennys 

Aptly named indeed, this new release from Canada’s Jennys (and only their second!) positively sparks, bristles and fizzes with an explosive vitality that takes their home-grown down-home rusticity onto a higher plane Aptly named indeed, this new release from Canada’s Jennys (and only their second!) positively sparks, bristles and fizzes with an explosive vitality that takes their home-grown down-home rusticity onto a higher plane while letting the glow it creates linger long in the memory. It’s less contemporary in overall sensibility than their debut 40 Days, with an altogether more pronounced roots-Americana feel yet retaining the girls’ penchant for lush and well-coordinated vocal harmonies within tightly controlled musical grooves.

The lineup change since 40 Days has if anything crystallised the trio’s approach even more, with a striking new degree of cohesion that their debut at times only hinted at, which is still perhaps more than mildly surprising given the three girls’ distinct musical personalities. New member Annabelle Chvostek (Cara Luft’s replacement) has already more than proved herself over on two successive UK tours, and here she shows herself to be an integral part of the Jennys’ unique mix, contributing a depth of register that really complements the soprano voices of the other two Jennys. She’s contributed four of the album’s 13 compositions (including the title track), as have both Ruth (Moody) and Nicky (Mehta), the remaining cut being a drop-dead-gorgeous a cappella rendition of the traditional “Long Time Traveller.” Annabelle and Nicky have both contributed songs that inhabit the more pure bluegrassy idiom: of Annabelle’s, “Swallow” is a delicate country-waltz, while “The Devil’s Paintbrush Road” ushers in a rush of fresh air like a breakneck Appalachian breakdown. Of the other songs, Nicky’s “Starlight” and Ruth’s “This Heart Of Mine” definitely have the feel of lost Alison Krauss (or Emmylou) classics. As is often the case, the sweet, heart-stoppingly beautiful sound of the girls’ combined voices belies any dark content in the lyrics yet sometimes only serves to make the pain of that expressed beauty more intense (check out the desperation Ruth evokes in “Prairie Town” for starters). There’s no harm in optimism however, as Nicky’s romantic-pop opus “Begin” and Annabelle’s “Apocalypse Lullaby” thoughtfully remind us. And there’s a gently anthemic nature to “Avila” and the seriously gospelly “Glory Bound” (the latter a real killer that stopped me getting as far as track three for ages!).

As I’ve already more than hinted, all three Jennys are in superb voice here, and the Jennys’ own (possibly undersold) instrumental talents are capably augmented by four guitarists including Kevin Breit and Mike Hardwick, four bass players including Joe Phillips, as well as drummer Christian Dugas, while Richard Moody (violin, viola) and album producer David Travers-Smith (trumpet, organ etc) widen the palette still further. There are some fine solos too (notably from Kevin on “Prairie Town” and “Avila”), but none of the musicians get to hog the spotlight to the exclusion of either the Jennys or their songs. And the recording is exceptional, admirably lucid and with buckets of presence. Without wishing to be disparaging, it’s almost that the Jennys are what the Dixie Chicks had sort-of-promised to be; their degree of natural talent is just mind-blowing, and I get to wonder just how long they’ll be able to continue producing brilliant albums like this. But for the time being, this is one of those totally exquisite CDs that I’ll be returning to again and again, I just know it!