Wailin’ Away – Canadian Folk Band to Perform in Frederick
Gazette.Net – Maryland, USA
By Jordan Edwards
Greenwich Village in the late 1950s. San Francisco in the ‘60s. These are places American audiences associate with folk music. They are communities where friendships and acoustic guitars blended to make memorable songs.
Folk is also big up north. In Winnipeg, Manitoba about 70 miles from the point Minnesota becomes Canada, the Wailin’ Jennys came together to form a trio known for its harmonies and eclectic songwriting. Nearly a decade after the genesis, Ruth Moody, Heather Masse and Nicky Mehta are some of the most respected folk musicians in the business.
“One of the great things about Winnipeg is there is a lot of resources for musicians, which helps a lot of cross-genre pollination,” says Moody. “[That is] probably why Nicky and I met in the first place. We were in slightly different scenes, but we were both singing backup for a mutual friend. Nicky had a great voice and was a great songwriter.”
They weren’t even supposed to be a real band.
“We talked about getting together with the other founding member, Cara [Luft], for one show to sing together on each other’s tunes,” Moody recalls. “It sold out right away, so we added a second show, and that sold out. There was a chemistry and, before we knew it, we were getting offers from folk festivals around the country.”
This Saturday at the Weinberg Center in Frederick, the audience can hear the Jennys sing music from their latest album, “Bright Morning Stars.” The show comes a night after a sold out performance at the Montpelier Arts Center in Laurel. Throughout the 13-song “Stars,” the album dips into roots country, bluegrass and jazz. None of the tracks, however, stray far from the tight earthy sound that fans have grown to love on their first two releases.
“We didn’t go in to make it deliberately sound different,” Moody says. “I think there’s actually a continuity there that is really nice. I think fans will feel that it’s a real Jennys record.”
Part of the album’s success is owed to producer Mark Howard, who has previously collaborated with Lucinda Williams and Emmylou Harris. The songs on “Stars” are polished, but maintain an organic feel somewhere at the intersection of Alison Krauss and Neko Case.
“He had a really light and relaxed presence,” Moody says of Howard. “He was very into creating a vibe and letting those special moments happen. And they did.”
In 2007, Heather Masse joined the group, replacing Annabelle Chvostek. Masse brought in jazz influences and a formally-trained ear. A native of Maine, she studied jazz at the New England Conservatory of Music. It didn’t take long for Masse to blend with Mehta and Moody. She was flexible, too. To add bottom to the Jennys’ sound, the multi-instrumentalist learned to play bass.
“She was just a perfect fit musically and personality-wise,” says Moody. “We sang together in a bathroom at a venue where she came to check us out. It felt great. We knew from right there that it was going to work out. It wasn’t really a change in direction. It was just sort of adding to the pallet.”
In Canada, the Jennys have achieved a high level of success, earning multiple Juno (Canadian Grammy) nominations. The Billboard Charts have been kind to the band, too. Both “Firecracker” and “Bright Morning Stars” made noise on the Heatseekers, Bluegrass and Folk charts. Upon its release last month, “Stars” became the No. 1 folk album in America.
When they’re not contributing to the Wailin’ Jennys, all three singer-songwriters work on their own material. Mehta’s song “Begin” appeared in the feature film “The Cake Eaters” and the Lifetime Series “Army Wives.” Masse, who lives in the Catskills region of New York, has released the CDs “Many Moons” and “Bird Song.” With many instruments— banjo, guitar, piano —at her disposal, Moody released her debut LP last April.
Despite all the side projects, Moody says the Jennys have no problem balancing both aspects of their careers.
“The Jennys are my number one priority. While we’re touring on the road, it’s full time for everybody,” she explains. “I try to do solo shows when I can. I made my record when we were on hiatus. It seemed like a perfect opportunity to do that.”
With a new hit album and a tour bus driving across North America, don’t expect the band to break up the harmonies anytime soon.