The Wailin' Jennys: Beauty Beyond Measure

Bright Morning Star
Red House 234
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The Wailin' Jennys is a great name for a country/folk trio. It's also deceptive, as these three "Jennys" (Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, Heather Masse) are angels, not outlaws like Waylon Jennings. In fact, they put me in mind of the voices dubbed onto the Sirens in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? and I do not lightly compare anyone to a power trio like Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, and Alison Krauss. The Jennys most recent album, Bright Morning Star, was released in 2009 in Canada, but not in the U.S. until 2011 and it still hasn't gotten half the attention it deserves. This isn't just a pretty album; it's drop-to-you-knees-and-cry-your-eyes-out gorgeous.

The Jennys do everything right on this album. There is, first and foremost, the blend of three tone-perfect voices: Moody's soprano, Mehta's mezzo, and Masse's alto. Second, there is the aural mastery of the production of Mark Howard and David Travers-Smith, who place the vocals front and center and use instrumentation to generate atmosphere รก la Daniel Lanois. They also do unusual things such as pairing acoustic guitar and flugel horn ("Across the Sea") or opening a song ("Storm Coming") with soulful vocals that become even more so when an electric organ rolls over the mix. They also effectively use drums in unexpected ways—mixed with banjo ("Bird Song")  or added as a  poignant punctuation mark to a breakup song ("All the Stars"). Need more convincing that this record is special? How about some fine writing? On "What Has Been Done," Mehta takes on alternative views of that theme: "Have your holy, I'll have mine/soil and birch and open sky/All our stories some day go/dust from air and earth from bone." Now add musical variation: an a capella take on an honest-to-goodness traditional (title track), a splash of Appalachia-meets-gospel ("Bird Song"), a song that comes off like something the Andrews Sisters might have done if dabbling in hula music ("Cherry Blossom Love"), and an album so thoughtful that it opens with a heart-wrenching regret song ("Swing Low Sail High") and ends on hopeful note ("Last Goodbye"). Call Bright Morning Star a shimmering mix of pop hooks, country sweetness, and harmonic perfection.  Rob Weir

Those within driving distance of Northampton, MA can catch the Jenny's in concert at the Calvin Theater on May 1. Call 800-THE-TICK or check www.nbotickets.com

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