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The Wailin’ Jennys – Bright Morning Stars
By Martin Raybould
I’ve had more than my fair share of grief in the past for my fondness for ‘wailin’ women’.
There is, I recognise, a breed of female bluegrass and/or folk singers with voices are very much an acquired taste. I’m thinking of artists like Iris Dement, Victoria Williams or Hazel Dickens.
It would, however, be significantly easier to ‘sell’ this Canadian trio particularly as it turns out that their name is a pun on country icon Waylon Jennings rather than a statement about their singing style.
These three women based in Winnipeg, Manitoba produce such dulcet tones that they will surely melt the hearts of even the most prejudiced listeners.
This is the third album by the Jennys each of which feature Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta. The third member has changed with each release and this time round she is New York based singer Heather Masse.
This threesome democratically alternate the song writing credits and lead vocal responsibilities with four songs apiece.
Moody and Mehta both play acoustic guitar as well as accordion/banjo and ukulele respectively. Heather Masse just sings. A dozen musicians are also credited with backing instruments but the arrangements are kept simple and their contribution is rightly understated to give prominence to the vocals.
Much credit here must go down to producer, Mark Howard, who draws upon vast experience with the likes Lucinda Williams, Tom Waits, Emmylou Harris and Bob Dylan.
Howard recognises that nothing should detract from the gorgeous harmonies and his production brings out the complimentary sound of soprano (Moody), mezzo (Mehta) and alto (Masse)to perfection.
The album centrepiece is the three way a capella title track which has strong echoes of Alison Krauss’ baptism song , Down To The River To Pray, from the soundtrack to Oh Brother Where Art Thou.
Ruth Moody’s atmospheric ‘Storm Comin’ and Nicky Mehta’s What Has Been Done and Last Goodbye are other songs that stood out for me.
These are mellow folk-blues songs with a strong sentimental lilt with a line like “open wide your wounded heart, feel yourself be blown part” from All The Stars is typical of the strong romantic mood.
The melodies are so soothing that, perversely, I almost wished for a few blemishes (real wailing?) to give a little extra edge but there’s no getting away from the fact that this is an exceptional album which is full of warmth and grace.