London Free Press – Canada
By Greg Burliuk
No one can accuse The Wailin’ Jennys of not being egalitarian.
On each of their three studio CDs, each of the trio has contributed four songs.
And everyone is encouraged to pursue a solo career apart from the group. This has been accomplished despite inserting a new member into the lineup for every album.
The Winnipeg-tied group with the heavenly harmonies plays Aeolian Hall on Sunday — Mother’s Day — at 8 p.m. London singer-songwriter Pete Denomme is also on the bill.
In February, the Jennys’ latest CD, Bright Morning Stars, was released. Joining founding members Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta of Winnipeg, is Heather Masse, a native of Maine.
And why the equal split of songwriting chores?
“We’re all songwriters and we never started with the intention of being a band,” says Mehta, who lives with her husband and baby twin sons on an organic fruit farm near Santa Cruz, Calif.
“We were a band of soloists who all had solo careers going so we just stuck to the formula where we each contributed four songs to an album.”
The original trio had Mehta and Moody with Cara Luft for a one-off concert by a Winnipeg guitar store owner. It was so successful they decided to stay together and jokingly chose a band name, a play on the name of the late country singer Waylon Jennings.
They won a Juno Award for their first full-length CD, 40 Days, in 2005. After a second successful album, Firecracker in 2006, a year later Masse took over from Luft’s replacement, Annabelle Chvostek.
You’d think finding a new recruit wouldn’t be easy, given that exacting standards were required. “First of all their voice had to blend in with ours,” says Mehta. “Then they had to be able to write their own music, play on a couple of instruments and be available to tour.”
“We put feelers out to the musical community and we were talking to Aoife O’Donovan (from the Boston alt bluegrass band Crooked Still), who mentioned Heather. She came to see us when we were in Boston and auditioned with us in the bathroom of the concert hall.”
It may have three songwriters but Bright Morning Stars is a seamless garment that seems to have been sewn by one hand. It also seems timeless as if it could have been written anytime in the last 50 years.
“We all do have similar questions about the world and how we see it,” says Mehta. “We like to refer to nature and other timeless themes in our writing.”
Still, there are subtle differences in their songwriting styles.
“Heather has a jazz bent,” says Mehta. “Her song Cherry Blossom Love on the new CD, I could never have written in 100 years.”
“Ruth and I are more similar in style. She is a very hooky writer and has a knack for writing very catchy and memorable tunes. I come from more of a pop background. My song Last Goodbye (which closes the album) is pretty poppy I think.”
A song that is special to Mehta on the new album is Away But Never Gone.
“It started out being about a friend who died,” she says. “Then I got pregnant and after I had the twins, I finished it. We are all born and then die. There’s the mystery of where we are when we’re not on the planet. It’s a kind of lullaby.”
Between the babies and the Jennys, Mehta hasn’t had time for her solo career these days.
“That’s especially been the case since we started managing the band ourselves,” she says.
“But we do think we’ll be healthier and happier if we do have the space to pursue solo careers if we want to.”
Denomme is making his Aeolian Hall debut with the Acoustic Music series concert. He released his first full-length album Nice To Be Home in December.
Denomme owns and operates the London Music Club, a listening room that is a favourite of musicians from across the country. He won the 2011 traditional folk/roots Award at the Jack Richardson Music Awards gala last month.
Among the songs Denomme is expected to sing on Sunday is Hyland, about the repertory movie theatre not far from the Denommes’ Old South London home.
“This song was inspired by our Sunday afternoons spent watching movies at the venerable Hyland,” Denomme says of the song.