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The Wailin’ Jennys @ The Troy Savings Bank Music Hall
The Times Union – NY, USA
By Michael Eck
TROY – Three voices are better than one.
Especially when those voices belong to Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse, collectively known as The Wailin’ Jennys. The Jennys made their Troy Savings Bank Music Hall debut Saturday, wowing a crowd of over 600 with their wit, songcraft and dazzling harmonies.
The group began nearly a decade ago, as a gathering of solo singer/songwriters at a friend’s guitar shop. The energy was instant and Moody and Mehta have been singing together ever since. Masse joined in 2007, after two other members had circulated in and out of the trio’s membership; they all sang as sure as sisters on Saturday.
The group is touring behind a new album, “Bright Morning Stars,” and they offered plenty of selections from the disc, including the a cappella title track.
Sound problems plagued the early part of the evening, briefly scuttling opener Rose Cousins’ set and slowing the Jennys momentum. Mehta, whose husband Grant Johnson is also the band’s soundman, took things in stride, riffing improvised lyrics about the situation until it was figured out.
Once everything was sorted magic happened.
The Jennys’ music is sometimes too polite for its own good, but they found an edge at the Hall. “Away But Never Gone,” from “Bright Morning Stars,” for example, set off Mehta’s poignant lyric with the chirp of a ukulele, proving that the little four string is good for more than novelty songs. Masse’s “Cherry Blossom Love” brought her deep jazz vocal education right into Jennys’ territory. And Moody’s “You Are Here” won best in show, pairing her brother Richard’s mandolin with her steady guitar and Mehta and Masse’s sweet backing.
Moody and Mehta did dip deeper into the band’s catalog as well. The former got the audience singing along powerfully on “the non-denominational gospel song” “Glory Bound, and the latter offered her own “Arlington” as well as a frankly too peppy take of Emmylou Harris and David Olney’s “Deeper Well.” The male Moody did get a little avant garde on his violin for “Well,” the one time the evening went truly outside, in the jazzman’s sense.
Moody and Mehta jumped around from one instrument to another throughout the evening, while Masse stayed parked behind her standup bass.But the audience loved it best when all instruments were laid aside. Lead Belly’s “Bring Me Lil’ Water, Silvy” didn’t sound like a field holler, but it did sound delicious. Moody’s “Storm Comin’,” with rubbing hands for percussion and sharp vocal counterpoint, went gospel again. And the closing round of “The Parting Glass” was sung sans microphones, making use of the hall’s famous acoustics.
Cousins’ brief opening set was charming, with her goofy humor offset by the beauty of her songs and her voice.