The Wailin’ Jennys

The low drone of a viola broken by a single voice leads us into the stone-filled churchyard. In our mind we see the names of those who have passed before us.

As a Jennys fan I thought I might be disappointed by an album of covers, but they push them in such fascinating directions that they seem like new songs.

Come, come with me out to the old churchyard
I so well know those paths ’neath the soft green sward
Friends slumber in there that we want to regard;
We will trace out their names in the old churchyard

Soon two more voices join in with the exquisite harmony that the Wailin’ Jennys have used together for 15 years. The mixture of grief gives way to hope as the voices rise.

I rest in the hope that one bright day
Sunshine will burst to these prisons of clay
The trumpets will sound on the hills near and far
And will wake up the dead in the old churchyard
(“Old Churchyard,” traditional)

By the end of the tune I am settled into my chair for a journey through this collection of their favourite (yes, the Wailin’ Jennys are Canadian-based, so favorite has an extra vowel) covers celebrating the 15 years they have been together. Appropriately, with the recent death of Tom Petty, who is now one of those buried in the clay, the second cover is of his “Wildflowers,” complete with a full acoustic band. The banjo adds a new voice to this tune, reinterpreting the tune even before their voices offer the freeing words,

You belong among the wildflowers
. . . You belong somewhere you feel free

Such a fitting tribute to Petty and all the music he gave us for many years. These tunes hit the spot in so many ways as they reaffirm our friendships and hopes amidst the chaotic noise that fills the very air we breathe. In the midst of this toxic mix I needed to hear harmony, and the Wailin’ Jennys know how to deliver that. I will highlight a few more of performances that really stick in my mind after a few times through this recording. Certainly these are old tunes, but the Jennys make them seem newly captivating.

“The Valley,” by Jane Siberry, seems to understand the dread that the arrival of the newspaper or latest email will bring. “You rise every morning, / Wondering what in the world will the world bring today. / Will it bring you joy or will it take it away?” Hope builds as we slide into “Light of a Clear Blue Morning,” written by Dolly Parton when she anticipated the end of a long, dark patch of life.

It’s been a long dark night
And I’ve been a waitin’ for the morning
It’s been a long hard fight
But I see a brand new day a dawning

’Cause I can see the light of a clear blue morning
I can see the light of a brand new day
I can see the light of a clear blue morning
And everything’s gonna be all right
It’s gonna be okay

The Jennys capture perfectly the desperate resolve of Emmylou Harris’s “Boulder to Birmingham,” which dances between biblical allusions and a love song.

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

Patty Griffin’s “Keep Me in Your Heart” reminds us of how fortunate we are not to be alone on this planet or in our own part of the world.

You are not alone
Laying in the light
Put out the fire in your head
And lay with me tonight

Other tunes include “Loves Me like a Rock” by Paul Simon, “Keep Me in Your Heart” by Warren Zevon, and “Weary Blues from Waitin’” by Hank Williams Sr. The Wailin’ Jennys—Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody, and Heather Masse—all have had significant solo success, but hearing their voices together makes the six-year wait since their last release worth it. Moody plays her banjo, as noted above; she and Mehta add guitars on a few tunes apiece. If you want to hear more of the banjo, I recommend Moody’s “These Wilder Things.” Sam Howard, Richard Moody, Adam Dobres, and Adrian Dolan supply the rest of the instruments that enliven this aural treat.

As a Jennys fan I thought I might be disappointed by an album of covers, but they push them in such fascinating directions that they seem like new songs. I am sure this will get repeated plays over the next weeks.


All reviews express the opinions of the reviewer, not necessarily the views of Third Way.