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The Wailin Jennys
They are neither grizzled country singers like their virtual namesake Waylon nor are any of them called Jenny but The Wailin’ Jennys are a Canadian trio making wonderful vocal based music. They are favourites on the international folk festival circuit and have established a following in Australia after a 2006 tour that included performances at The Port Fairy Folk Festival and the Brunswick St Music Festival. They are neither grizzled country singers like their virtual namesake Waylon nor are any of them called Jenny but The Wailin’ Jennys are a Canadian trio making wonderful vocal based music. They are favourites on the international folk festival circuit and have established a following in Australia after a 2006 tour that included performances at The Port Fairy Folk Festival and the Brunswick St Music Festival.
But their fame is spreading. They have won numerous awards in the homeland and in America and have featured on the US Billboard bluegrass charts. The trio consists of soprano Ruth Moody (guitar, banjo, accordion, bodhran) and mezzo Nicky Mehta (guitar, harmonica, ukulele, percussion) who are founding members with the essential third voice, being provided by alto Heather Masse, the newest member.
Although they are originally from Winnepeg it was in Toronto that Ruth Moody was found for a quick chat.
The occasion was the Australian release of their latest album a sublime live set called Live At The Mauch Chunk Opera House. The pleasure was all mine.
A live album was needed to placate the hungry masses and also to document the bands current touring incarnation.
“It really was”, agrees Moody. “We just took a year sabbatical and we really wanted to record the live show before we took that break. We’d been touring steadily with our “Jennys 3.0” configuration for a couple of years. We were feeling really tight as a band and we had developed a really special energy. The fans had been asking for it for a while so it just made sense.
“it was a last minute thing and we only recorded one show so we weren’t sure it would work out. It ended up being a great show to record and so it worked out well”.
The Mauch Chunk Opera House is located in the town of Jim Thorpe in Pennsylvania. It makes for a memorable album title and apparently it’s a beautiful old building with a great “vibe”. It shows.
The Jennys touring regime takes in shows at theatres such as the Mauch Chunk Opera House and a lot of festivals. For Moody there’s pros and cons to both.
“It’s nice to have a balance”, she considers. We like doing shows in concert halls but we also love doing festivals because its such a joyous environment. Also you get the chance to collaborate with other musicians and magical things can happen in that way. In concert halls you have the optimum situation for sound and for the audience to really hear the show. So it’s a trade-off, I like both”
One of the bands most defining songs emerged from a festival. One Voice is its title and for a band whose harmonies are their most recognisable calling card, a song with a title of One Voice was always going to be significant. It’s a good thing that the song, written by Moody is as good as its title requires it to be.
“I certainly connected to something special when I was writing it”, concedes Moody. “ I was at a folk festival and I was so inspired by the idea of people coming together and singing together and sharing music and the sense of community that happens and how powerful it can be. And what a difference that can make in the world.
“I was inspired by that idea and what was happening at the festival and the positivity that was all around me. I had peace and unity on the brain and I started writing the song and right away I knew it was going to be a Jennys song. So I definitely feel that I hooked into the magic at that festival”.
Part of the attraction of the Jennys is that they are willing to combine their own original songs with well chosen covers and traditional songs giving their music a sense of being part of a longer continuum. They are open to re-interpreting songs and the live album contains songs written by the likes of Jane Siberry, Gillian Welsh [sic] and Emmylou Harris as well as some more traditional folk songs. It’s a healthy attitude.
“Obviously we are all songwriters but we are always willing to consider covers and traditional material because as you say ǃ