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It’s a slow burn to success for folk trio 

With their new album Firecracker, the Wailin’ Jennys’ career is exploding. Four years of hard work and lengthy tours by the local folk trio are paying off. They’ve earned attention and acclaim in folk circles around the world. It’s a slow burn to success for folk trio
Work pays off for Wailin’ Jennys
With their new album Firecracker, the Wailin’ Jennys’ career is exploding.

Four years of hard work and lengthy tours by the local folk trio are paying off. They’ve earned attention and acclaim in folk circles around the world. They’ve even made fans out of luminaries such as Garrison Keillor and Bruce Cockburn.

"We’ve taken a bunch of small steps that you can feel when you’ve gotten to another level," says Nicky Mehta, 34, who handles mezzo vocal duties alongside bandmates Ruth Moody (30, soprano) and Annabelle Chvostek (32, alto). Each member of the Jennys is a multi-instrumentalist.

Following the release of the 13-track Firecracker — their second album — in the spring, the group was invited on a special Independence Day edition of Keillor’s nationally syndicated radio program, A Prairie Home Companion, that was also broadcast on PBS television’s Great Performances series.

With a radio audience of four million and untold numbers watching the tube, the show gave the Jennys access to an audience it would have taken several trips across the U.S to reach live. And the impact was immediate.

The day after the show aired, Firecracker shot to No. 2 on the Amazon sales charts, right behind the Dixie Chicks and ahead of Johnny Cash. The band’s debut album, 40 Days, came along for the ride and hit No. 4. They also made the Top 5 on the Billboard bluegrass chart (quite a feat for a non-bluegrass band).

A few weeks later at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, Cockburn checked out one of their workshops and approached the group about working together.

"He said he picked up Firecracker in the States and told us it was one of his favourite albums. It was so bizarre and surreal because we’re big fans.

"At the Edmonton Folk Festival he invited us on the mainstage to sing three songs with him: ‘Night Train,’ ‘If a Tree Falls’ and ‘Mystery,’ one of his new songs," says Mehta. "He was a sweetheart, and to get the approval from a legend is really exciting."

The excitement continues for the group tomorrow when they finally get to hold a hometown release party for Firecracker, which came out June 6. After three solid months of shows in Canada, the U.S. and Britain, the Jennys will celebrate with friends, family and fans at the Pantages Playhouse in their largest local show ever.

"I’m sure if I have nerves it will be because of that room," says Mehta. "It’s really exciting. I saw one of my favourite concerts in that room, Jane Siberry in 1988 after she released one of my favourite albums, The Walking."

It’s a considerably bigger venue than Sled Dog Music, where the trio got its start in 2002, when Mehta and Moody hooked up for a one-off show with Cara Luft. The three solo artists clicked instantly and became an official unit.

Their debut was released in 2004 and went on to win the 2005 Juno for best roots/traditional album. Luft accepted the award with the Jennys, but had actually left the group to focus on her solo career only months after the album’s release.

With a string of touring commitments they couldn’t cancel, the remaining Jennys quickly recruited Montreal’s Chvostek.

"She’s a very artistic person in many different mediums — she does experimental stuff for dance groups and worked in the cabaret scene so she brings a different sensibility to the group and lots of influences we didn’t have before," Mehta says.

The success of 40 Days –which has sold more than 40,000 copies — could have pressured the group to try to duplicate its sound. But with a new member they could explore different territories, Mehta says.

"I think in this case we pushed the envelope with more of an edge, and thematically the album is darker."

The Winnipeg show is part of a cross-country jaunt, which will be followed by a two-month U.S. trek before a trip to Europe.

"For the next two years we’re constantly on the road," says the singer.