The Wailin’ Jennys: Fifteen
True North Records – 2017 (UK Release)
The latest release from The Wailin’ Jennys is a beautiful new collection of cover songs. The trio, comprised of singer-songwriters Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse, is known for exquisite, near perfect harmonies. “Fifteen” is their first album since 2011, the title celebrating 15 years together for this (mainly) Canadian band.
The album opener Old Churchyard, a traditional folk ballad, sets the tone for this release – sad songs with sweet harmonies and minimal instrumentation, mainly just guitar and bass on a few tunes. Several are done a cappella, including Hank Williams’ Weary Blues from Waitin’, and Dolly Parton’s Light of the Clear Blue Morning, the latter from a (Dolly approved) independent Canadian film, “The Year Dolly Parton was My Mom.”
Paul Simon’s Love Me Like a Rock, is sung a cappella, with harmonies accompanied only by foot stomping, hand clapping, and finger snapping … along with a few gender specific lyrical adjustments. The playful swagger of Simon’s original remains …
“When I was a little girl/And the Devil would call my name
I’d say ‘now who do/Who do you think you’re fooling?’”
With an album of covers, we all have our personal favourites, usually familiar songs inspired by previous listening. Mine is Warren Zevon’s Keep Me in Your Heart, a stunning unassuming tune he wrote while fighting terminal lung cancer. Zevon was such a force, it’s not easy to do the song justice. This arrangement however, is heavenly, their sympathetic voices defining melancholy.
Indeed, this album tells stories of loss, loneliness and despair – full of sad songs even when unintended.
Tom Petty’s Wildflowers, a popular tune to cover these days, is an example. The song was not intended as a memorial to Petty, but serves that purpose respectfully. The Jenny’s version, done with a full band, is among the better re-makes – you sense Petty would approve.
A pair of great American women songwriters are covered as well. Not Alone, by Patty Griffin, is dirge-like, with droning viola accompaniment. The same for the Emmylou Harris classic Boulder to Birmingham, a song about loss and heartbreak, written after Harris lost boyfriend Gram Parsons in 1974. The glowing chorus is well-served on this album.
“I would rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham
I would hold my life in his saving grace
I would walk all the way from boulder to Birmingham
If I thought I could see, I could see your face.”
In sum, this is an album of great tunes, re-arranged by a seasoned trio who know how to bring out the best in a song. It grows on you, song by song. We wholly recommend a listen!