Sunday, October 4, 2009

In review--Wailing Winnipeg

The Wailin’ Jennys
Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House
Red House Records

Anyone who has listened to a recording or attended a concert performed by Winnipeg’s The Wailin’ Jennys, knows that it all ends too quickly. The sweet strains of harmonies that the trio of women vocalists, (Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse), have the ability to amaze and thrill. Then add the fiery bluegrass fiddle of Jeremy Penner, and the listening pleasure must be repeated a few times in order to feel completely satiated from this a cappella and accompanied music.

Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House (Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania), offers both, a live concert and a recording. And listeners no doubt, will press the repeat button to enjoy an encore performance of these 14 delicious tracks. The recording not only offers a clean and crisp sound, but the musicians create a warm and inviting atmosphere with a little bit of on-stage banter and a beautiful delivery of previously recorded songs and some luscious covers. New member, alto and bassist Heather Masse chips in two of her penned tracks, Driving and the quaint Paint a Picture.

The opener, Deeper Well (Emmylou Harris), led by Mehta starts off the listening experience on a fiery note. Moody pounds out a rollicking Celtic rhythm on a bodhrĂ n (frame drum), and Penner’s fiddle solo draws much deserved applause half way through the song. And the harmonies thrill as well. Then the musicians slide into George and Ira Gershwin’s infamous Summertime. This song has been covered by just about every traditional or jazz musician out there, though the Jennys’ interpretation is the best I’ve ever heard of this song.
Other gems include, Masse’s Driving in which she leads off with a story about her boyfriend going off to work on an organic farm, as well as, Glory Bound, Arlington, Begin and a frolicking Racing with the Sun (Ella Jenkins), which combines bluegrass, Vaudeville and swing. The album closes with Moody’s spiritual ode, One Voice.

I am not a fan of bluegrass or country western music. In fact, I often find myself running away from all, but the virtuosos that perform this music. However, the Jennys’ eclectic collection (folk, bluegrass, country, blues and jazz), touch my heart. I find this music incredibly healing on so many levels, and I like to call the Jennys’ songs “tension tamers.” Certainly I pop this trio's discs into the player every time I experience another migraine coming on, and lo and behold, the headache disappears after a few tracks.

I don’t know what water Manitobans are drinking, but judging from the sweet-honey sounds that radiate from Winnipeg’s Wailin’ Jennys, I wonder if a movement for peace will hail from this region of the world. Granted, I know little about the Canadian province, except that it’s flat prairie land that dips below zero degrees in the dark winter months. Fortunately, for the Manitobans and the people residing in Winnipeg, they have the Jennys to keep them toasty warm and add some light to their lives.

Red House Records

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