The Wailin’ Jennys: Bright Morning Stars
www.pennyblackmusic.co.uk – UK
By Malcolm Carter
Walking in to my local record store, which is sadly no longer there of course, during the closing chilly months of 2006 I was mesmerized by the sweet sounds coming from the shop’s sound system. On asking I was told that the album playing was the latest from a Canadian trio named the Wailin’ Jennys. I walked out of the shop that day clutching my copy of what turned out to be the trio’s second full-length album, ‘Firecracker’, and for the next few days their harmonies filled every room in the house. The music the all-female trio made was acoustic folk-roots rich on melodies and with harmonies that were simply breathtaking.
Since ‘Firecracker’ the band released a live album, ‘Live At Mauch Chunk Opera House’, and Annabelle Chvostek left, her replacement being Heather Masse. While Heather has more of a jazz and blues background than Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta, the two founding members of the Wailin’ Jennys, it’s really business as usual when comparing the trio’s albums.
So while The Wailin’ Jennys have not broken any new ground with this latest collection of twelve original songs and their arrangement of one traditional (the title song), ‘Bright Morning Stars’ is another immaculately played, produced and most importantly sung album in the band’s catalogue. There is little to choose between the three members who all contribute songs. You wouldn’t want to guess who wrote each of the songs; even though they write separately they’re all on the same page when composing it seems. But this just makes for a more cohesive album and by having three strong songwriters in one band it’s unlikely that the quality will ever drop on any Wailin’ Jennys album.
The Wailin’ Jennys are not alone in writing songs that sound like they could have been written at any point in the last 60 or 70 years. These songs really do, however, have a timeless quality to them which will obviously still make them favourites in the years to come and with the acclaim that Alison Krauss is finally receiving is hardly going to help further the career of this talented trio.
One of the Ruth Moody songs on this album, namely ‘Asleep At Last’, is a perfect example of just what makes these girls so special and is probably all that is needed to convert someone who has never heard the band before. With just added acoustic and National guitars from Kevin Brett joining Ruth’s acoustic guitar what could be a sparse -sounding track is filled out with such breathtaking harmonies they almost make you forget just how superb Ruth’s lead vocals are on this song. If any Alison Krauss fan heard this song, they’d surely rush out and buy ‘Bright Morning Star’.
Highlighting Ruth’s performance on that song is a little unfair as all three singers have an equal talent. Heather Masse turns in what is arguably her best vocal on the album on ‘Cherry Blossom Love’ where the band’s contribution of electric guitar and percussion add further texture to the sound we’ve come to expect from The Wailin’ Jennys.
Just now though the lead vocals of Nicky Mehta, which open and close the album with ‘Swing Low Sail High’ and ‘Last Goodbye’, which are two of the strongest songs on a collection that has no weak points, are still stopping heartbeats. That Nicky has an exceptional voice is stating the obvious to anyone who has heard her sing but when Heather and Ruth join in the results are simply stunning.
The Wailin’ Jennys do anything but wail…they sing like angels and have the original songs to showcase those voices perfectly. ‘Bright Morning Star’ is an album that will be played and played.