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Smooth-harmonizing trio to be in Greensboro
This is the sound of voices three/Singing together in harmony/ This is the sound of voices three/Singing together in harmony/Surrendering to the mystery/This is the sound of voices three/ This is the sound of voices three.
This is the sound of one voice/One people, one voice/A song for every one of us/This is the sound of one voice/This is the sound of one voice.
So goes a trademark Wailin’ Jennys song, "One Voice." When the Jennys sing, it can be hard to tell where one voice ends and another begins.
It’s the Canadian folk trio’s signature sound — clear, warm and honeyed three-part harmonies laid over old and original tunes, ballads and traditional songs.
The Jennys frequently turn up as musical guests on American Public Media’s A Prairie Home Companion. They’ll be in Greensboro on Wednesday for a show at Guilford College.
For Nicky Mehta, the group’s medium-pitched mezzo voice, singing with her band-mates — Ruth Moody as soprano and Heather Masse as alto — is as much a physical experience as it is an artistic one.
"You can feel it when it really blends," Mehta said in a recent interview. "It feels right physically. It just kind of settles in you somehow. When things are not blending well ǃ_ you feel like you’re a bit on edge physically.
"It’s hard to describe. The analogy I’ve used before is if you’re on a really snowy road and you kind of get into the ruts in a street, that’s what it feels like. Like you sort of just slide into the ruts and you’re on rails in a way, and when you’re veering off you can feel it, you can feel it physically that you’re off the tracks. It’s not just about your ears and it’s not just about what’s in your throat and your diaphragm."
In this age of Auto-Tune and digital manipulation, the Jennys’ sound feels familiar and fresh at the same time.
"You can’t manufacture that," Mehta said. "It’s just the voices. Nobody can take credit for something like that, it’s just the quality of the voices and it’s getting lucky with having them match."
All three of the Jennys had — and have — solo careers, too. Mehta started singing with Moody and other original member, Cara Luft, while she was in the midst of taking a year off between college and graduate school to work on her singing and songwriting and promote her own solo album.
"(Moody) just wanted to sing with two other women and we were just lucky that the voices worked together," Mehta said. "I hadn’t a lot of experience singing three-part harmony alone. I have done choir stuff and I had done two-part harmony, so that was a new experience for me. I think the signature sound comes from the voices just blending well."
Today, Mehta and Moody live in Canada, and Masse lives in New York. Masse is the group’s third alto — Luft and later Annabelle Chvostek left to pursue their own musical careers.
But through the years, the group has continued to garner accolades and success. In 2005, the Jennys won a Juno (Canada’s equivalent of a Grammy) for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year.
The trio are so in synch that Mehta won’t even single out one favorite song off the Jennys’ new and yet-to-be-titled album, which will be released later this year. "I’ll pick a favorite of all of ours, then, because I can’t just pick out one person," she said diplomatically.
So that would be: "Cherry Blossom," a cheeky jazz-inspired song, by Masse; "You Are Here," by Moody, and "Away But Never Gone," a lullaby Mehta wrote when she was pregnant with her twin boys. She originally started the song a few years ago when a friend died, put it down and then picked it up again. "I realized that it was kind of about both things. It ended up being about that world where people go and people come from that we don’t know a whole lot about."
The Jennys will likely play all three during their Guilford College performance next week.
They also favor covers old and new — their last album, Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, includes Jane Siberry’s "Calling All Angels," jazz standard "Summertime," and Emmylou Harris’ "Deeper Well."
"On albums, the majority is original. In shows I would say it’s a 60/40 split, originals being 60 percent and covers and traditionals being 40," Mehta said. "We love to re-interpret traditional music. Anything from something that’s actually field music, that’s sort of public domain stuff, to a standard like ǃ