The Wailin’ Jennys making their harmonious mark on this side of the border
By Mary Houlihan For Sun-Times Media November 13, 2013 6:06PM
The Wailin’ Jennys — Heather Masse (from left), Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody. | PHOTO BY ART TURNER
The Wailin’ Jennys, 7 p.m. Nov. 17, Old Town School of Folk Music, 4544 N. Lincoln. $28, $30. (773) 728-6000; oldtownschool.org
The list of female singer-songwriters out of Canada consists of many famous names — Joni Mitchell, k.d. lang, Sarah McLachlan, Alanis Morissette, Leslie Feist — all of whom have made their mark. The 12-year-old roots trio, The Wailin’ Jennys, may not be as well-known but their songbook is just as accomplished.
The Jennys — Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse — deliver an irresistible folk-pop sound. They have perfected harmonies that are comparable to the collaborative melodies of another trio this time from across the border: Emmylou Harris, Linda Ronstadt and Dolly Parton.
“The three-part harmonies have always been our signature,” says Moody, from Winnipeg where she lives. “I don’t think we’d be in this band if we didn’t have an affinity for it. There’s just something about the blend that feels really right and really seamless.”
The Juno Award-winning trio is now back on tour after an 18-month “baby” hiatus (Masse and Mehta both have young children). “People said we would loose momentum but we did it our own way,” Moody says. “It’s nice to see the fans have been patient and we were able to juggle both sides.”
Founding members Moody, Mehta and Cara Luft met through the tight knit Winnipeg music community, noted for its cross pollination of different genres. The three singers were pursuing solo careers when a friend at the Winnipeg Folk Festival suggested they sing together.
“It was nothing we had planned,” Moody explains. “It just took on a life of its own. And we saw the magic in it.”
Masse joined the group in 2007 when Luft left to pursue a solo career. Mutual friend, singer Aoife O’Donovan, suggested Masse stop by Philadelphia’s World Cafe where the Jennys were performing. “We sang a few songs [“Amazing Grace,” Hank Williams’ “Weary Blues”] together in the bathroom, the only place that was quiet,” Moody says, laughing. “Heather fit right in immediately.”
Each of the artists brings a wide array of musical interests to the group, which helps keep the Jennys fresh and vital. They’ve continued to assimilate new sounds and ideas while remaining true to their folk influences.
Moody, a classically trained vocalist and pianist, discovered folk and Celtic music as a teen, later performing with the roots band Scruj MacDuhk. Mehta was raised on classical music and heavily influenced by alternative pop. Masse is a jazz voice graduate of the New England Conservatory of Music. Each has pursued a solo career alongside performing as a trio.
In 2011, the Jennys released their fourth album, the highly praised “Bright Morning Stars” (Red House Records), which earned the women a second Juno (Canada’s Grammy). Their path into the U.S. market has been aided by numerous appearances on Garrison Keillor’s public radio staple “Prairie Home Companion.”
The women are currently working on songs for a new album; each writes solo and then come together to arrange the songs. The different aspects and paths of their lives are vital to the process, Moody says.
“I think it’s important for all of us to be experiencing other things in order to have new and varied inspiration when it comes to songwriting. It’s always great to step outside the group and see what’s out there but it also feels great to come back together and sing together and find the magic is still there.”