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The Wailin’ Jennys – BRIGHT MORNING STARS
By David Kidman
The brand name of this celebrated Canadian female trio has always been synonymous with stylish and tasty folk-roots music; it has, however, always seemed mildly fated, in that founder members Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta have twice now had to embrace a lineup change (original third member Cara Luft having been replaced in 2004 by Annabelle Chvostek, who on her departure in 2007 was succeeded by Heather Masse).
The Jennys’ albums have tended to prove in the first instance quite slow-burn but in the long term distinct stayers, and this new release, number four in the sequence if you count their EP debut, is no exception. It’s a long five years since their award-winning Firecracker album, but the Jennys’ fiercely democratic modus-operandi is retained in the equal-handedness with which the songwriting credits are meted out on their latest, with each of the ladies being allotted four titles. The thirteenth item (the disc’s title song) is a spine-tinglingly poised and glacially beautiful adaptation of the time-honoured Southern Baptist hymn, sung acappella of course, on which each individual strand is both pure and clear and clearly audible in relation to its place within the group texture with close observance of both kinds of dynamic.
The brilliantly incisive recording so faithfully captures the individual and combined vocal nuances and relationships, and it goes without saying that this facet will always be considered the Jennys’ principal selling-point: fine singers with gorgeous voices who naturally blend and cohere and harmonise. And yet there’s so much more to this trio, for each of them is an extremely able and highly persuasive songwriter (and more than competent musician too as it happens, although they’ve also engaged a handful of other players for the album sessions including Paul Mathew, Colin Cripps, Kevin Breit, Bill Dillon and Ruth’s brother Richard).
The Jennys’ writing shows them to be well versed in sub-genre and crossover stylings, from the light-textured ukulele-accompanied back-porch folk of Away But Never Gone to the understated delicacy of All The Stars, the 40s/50s gentle-swing ambience of Cherry Blossom Love to the gospel-soul mood of Storm Comin’ (both embracing Heather’s jazz-singer training). Less is invariably more, even in the songs that incorporate marginally fuller musical settings, for the degree of restraint both in terms of delivery and arrangement is a major factor in the communicative success of the Jennys’ music. Heather’s Across The Sea, which enchants the ear from its opening acappella clarion-call and gains warmth with guitar and then flugel-horn, is a case in point in that regard, and the tender Asleep At Last comes very close to that standout song. But the whole album contains plenty else that constitutes serious magic too.