The Wailin' Jennys: First New Release in Six years

Red House Records #305

In Greek mythology the Sirens were dangerous creatures whose mellifluous voices lured sailors into treacherous waters where their boats were dashed upon the reefs. Odysseus stopped the ears of his crew with wax and had himself lashed to the mast just so he could hear them. Good thing he did, as he thrashed, howled, and screamed in madness at the sheer beauty of their tones. The Wailin' Jennys are a real-life equivalent of such vocal enticement. Luckily for us, their intentions are benign.

Fifteen is the Jennys' first album in six years—released just in time to honor the fifteen-year partnership between Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, and Heather Masse.  When you have such lovely voices and know how to harmonize them, there's no sense in competing with them. The instrumentation is wisely kept at a minimum (if there is any at all) so that we might savor every word and soaring note. Yet, somehow it feels rich, not spare. The traditional "Old Churchyard" is just vocals atop of viola drone and that's all we need. It's all about the song for the Wailin' Jennys and to that end, they perform covers rather than originals. These include Tom Petty's "Wildflowers," Dolly Parton's "Light of aClear Blue Morning," Emmylou Harris' "Boulder to Birmingham," Warren Zevon's "Keep Me in Your Heart," and Jane Silberry's "The Valley." But even if you know the song, it will sound new because you will be forced to listen to glorious voices, with few or no competing instruments. To my ear, the only misfire is their rendition of Paul Simon's "Love Me Like a Rock," which is too pretty and lacks Simon's urbane and soulful hipster vibe. But let's not nitpick; a new Wailin' Jennys album is cause for celebration. Unlike the Greek sirens, the Jennys soothe, delight, and bear healing musical delights. Okay—they do one not-so-nice thing. There are only nine songs on Fifteen. I would have liked at least six more.

Rob Weir

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