New Jersey Herald – Wailin’ Jennys Have Special Vocal Blend
By ROBERT PRICE
NEWTON — It’s not much of a stretch to describe the music of the Wailin’ Jennys as Canadian Americana. But their innovative sounds, melodic harmonies and contemporary songwriting put a modern spin on traditional folk and roots music.
Their brand new album, “Bright Morning Stars,” is a vocal and instrumental tapestry of their special blend of “roots-pop.” The Wailin’ Jennys just started stage two of a tour in support of their new CD and one of their first stops is Sussex County Community College for two shows Thursday.
All three band members — Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse — contribute to the 12 original songs, singing and playing a variety of instruments.
The group was born by accident in 2002 when Moody, Mehta and Cara Luft played together at a guitar shop in their hometown of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and unexpectedly created a magical sound. Luft has since left, but that magical sound remains, thanks to the addition of New Yorker Masse.
“First of all, I think we’re really fortunate to have the vocal blend we do. Without that, nothing else matters and we’ve been so lucky to find a great blend together,” Mehta said.
“On top of that, I think a shared love of singing, similar music tastes but different influences, respect for each other’s songwriting, there are many aspects that contribute. I think we all love to perform and we all share a similar desire to connect to people through our songs and through the live performance of those songs. We are all different people, but we share similar visions of what we seek to do with our music. And that equals good chemistry, I think,” she said.
The Feb. 8 release of “Bright Morning Stars” represents the group’s first album with Masse. The songs speak of this world and the one beyond. Often the message involves searching for what has been lost, on several levels.
“This is our first studio album with Heather Masse and she brings some wonderful elements to the table,” Mehta said. “Her songs have great energy and they mix so well with Ruth’s and my tunes so I think it’s a really well-balanced and full album. This album, like the others is mostly about the vocals and the interplay between our voices and the songs. We all contribute four originals and there is a lot of variety in the writing. Also, like our other albums, it also is full of beautiful instrumentation thanks to our amazing players….”
Those players are some of Canada’s finest session musicians, including Bill Dillon (Joni Mitchell, Peter Gabriel), Kevin Breit (Norah Jones), Colin Cripps (Kathleen Edwards), Richard Moody (The Bills) and frequent Jennys sideman Jeremy Penner on fiddle. The album was recorded in a cottage near Haliburton, Ontario, and released on Red House Records.
Overall, it’s the group’s fourth album. The first, “40 Days,” released in 2004, won a Juno (Canadian Grammy) Award for Roots and Traditional Album of the Year. Around the same time the Jennys started making regular appearances on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion public radio show.
Their second album, “Firecracker,” was nominated for a Juno, won a Folk Alliance Award and charted over 56 weeks on the Billboard charts.
In 2009, The Wailin’ Jennys released “Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House,” recorded at the venerable, historic and acoustically perfect theater in Jim Thorpe, Pa. This album spent over a year on the Billboard bluegrass charts, capturing their witty stage banter and expert musicianship in addition to their vocal harmonies.
“Our fans had been asking for a live album for a long time and we love the opera house in Jim Thorpe. It’s a gorgeous sounding room and at the time we were scheduled to play there in 2008, it was just perfect timing to take a stab at recording a live album. We didn’t know what we’d end up with and weren’t sure we would get what we wanted for a live album so we just went in with the attitude that we would be fine with whatever happened. There wasn’t a whole lot of pressure, which was good. But the stars aligned and we were really happy with it. It was a lot of fun, the audience was great and the sound was excellent. That’s all you need,” Mehta said.
Soprano Ruth Moody (vocals, guitar, accordion, banjo, bodhrán) is a classically trained vocalist and pianist known as an accomplished, versatile singer of traditional and Celtic music and as the former lead singer of Juno-nominated roots band Scruj MacDuhk. She recently released her first full-length solo album, “The Garden,” whose title track was the No. 4 most played song of 2010 on international folk radio.
Mezzo Nicky Mehta (vocals, guitar, harmonica, drums, ukulele), a trained dancer raised on classical music, ’70s a.m. radio and influenced by alternative pop, was nominated for a Canadian Indie Music Award for her solo album “Weather Vane.”
Alto Heather Masse (vocals, upright bass), a Maine native, is a jazz voice graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music, who has performed in Mark O’Connor’s Hot Swing and Darol Anger’s Republic of Strings.
For more information about The Wailin’ Jennys, visit www.thewailinjennys.com.