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Wailin’ Jennys - Fifteen

  by Malcolm Carter

published: 17 / 1 / 2018

Wailin’ Jennys - Fifteen
Label: True North Records
Format: CD


Canadian-based folk trio the Wailin’ Jennys first album in six years is a stunning collection of covers

Along the bottom edge of the sleeve it states that ‘Mehta, Moody and Masse perform their favourite covers’. This album from folk trio the Wailin’ Jennys arrived at the same time as another covers album, Ane Brun’s ‘Leave Me Breathless’. Maybe it’s the time of year for cover albums; having, for no real reason, played the Ane Brun album first initial thoughts were that this trio were going to have to really come up with something really special if they were going to compete with the Norwegian’s beautiful interpretations of other people’s songs. There really should have been no doubt; for their first album in six years the trio have chosen nine of their favourite songs, some that are totally unexpected choices, to celebrate their fifteen years together in music and added their own unique twist to the songs. After fifteen years singing together and three studio albums the trio can still move the hardest of hearts with their voices. Although obviously recorded before his untimely death the trio’s version of Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflower’, which they have been performing for some years, is now even more poignant. It’s a beautiful version anyway but hearing it at this point in time can’t leave many with dry eyes. Violin, mandolin and banjo carve out the melody before those voices are introduced which is the point when hearts melt. A stunning arrangement and one of the best and most emotive performances the band has released to date. The album opens with ‘Old Churchyard’ upon which a lone viola drone is the only other sound on the recording apart from those exquisite voices. The song is probably best known to folk fans via the Waterson/Carthy version of this traditional song on the ‘A Dark Light’ album (a set well worth checking out); The Wailin’ Jennys take is warmer, more mellow than the Waterson version and the trio’s arrangement, while losing none of spirit of the song, does lend the song a more contemporary feel. It’s time for those tears again when the trio takes on Warren Zevon’s ‘Keep Me in Your Heart’ from his final studio album before he succumbed to cancer in 2003. Given that the song was the last song on ‘The Wind’ it was always an emotional journey getting through Zevon’s final farewell. The trio strip the song right back, and it’s a sparse but beautiful reading complete with a stunning string arrangement which only adds to the poignancy of the original. It’s obvious that the song is sung with the respect it deserves and it’s another striking performance. Jane Siberry’s ‘The Valley’ again benefits from more beautiful string parts; the trio’s singing is, as always, stunning making this particular track one of the best versions of the song so far heard. The atmosphere created on Dolly Parton’s ‘Light of a Clear Blue Morning’ is again, like the vocals, breathtaking. By stripping back some of these songs the Wailin’ Jennys bring out beauty that might not have been so obvious in their original, familiar versions. To say that the trio has added new dimensions to these songs is an understatement. Listening to these new versions is like hearing the songs for the first time. There’s a freshness that the band brings without losing any of the original vision. There’s a version of the Emmylou Harris song ‘Boulder to Birmingham’ that is almost heart stopping. It’s brave to take such a well-known and loved song and try to add your own identity to it but the band have succeeded once again. Many of these songs, intentionally or not, deal with loss in some way. The haunting arrangement afforded to Patty Griffin’s ‘Not Alone’ is outstanding and again takes the song into unchartered waters. The nuances of electric guitar combined with the viola compliment those perfect vocals brilliantly. ‘Fifteen’ is a welcome return from the Wailin’ Jennys. To say it’s their strongest album to date is to take something away from all the original songs the trio have recorded through the years but it’s such a strong, well-chosen set of songs that they really have stamped their own identity on it’s difficult at times to see this as a covers album and confirms what we already knew; that the Wailin’ Jennys sing like no other band and will melt hearts with those voices.

Track Listing:-
1 Old Churchyard
2 Wildflowers
3 The Valley
4 Light of a Clear Blue Morning
5 Loves Me Like a Rock
6 Boulder to Birmingham
7 Not Alone
8 Keep Me in Your Heart
9 Weary Blues From Waitin'

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