Bright Morning Stars is certainly an appropriate name: The Wailin' Jennys once again combine stellar songwriting, brilliant arrangements, and heavenly harmonies in their latest album.
With the opening notes, listeners will notice some changes from the group's prior studio work. Mark Howard (Lucinda Williams, Marianne Faithful, The Tragically Hip) joined the Jennys' long-time collaborator David Travers-Smith to co-produce the new album. The result, at times, is a fuller, more layered sound than the group's earlier studio recordings, their self-titled EP (2003), 40 Days (2004), and Firecracker (2006). But that result never overpowers the rightful focus on the vocals: three singer-songwriters with beautifully distinctive individual voices, each singing lead on her own original songs, yet blending together with each other perfectly to produce the flawlessly lush close harmonies for which the group has become known.
This is the trio's first studio album with alto Heather Masse (the group's "token American"), who in early 2007 joined founding Canadian members, soprano Ruth Moody and mezzo Nicky Mehta. The album includes one traditional song, the title track arranged by the group and sung a cappella, and twelve originals. As on their prior studio albums, the Jennys share equally in the songwriting duties, with each of the three contributing four original songs that somehow manage to sound both contemporary and traditional, and combine a broad range of influences, from roots, folk and Americana, to acoustic pop, to gospel and jazz.
Because there isn't a weak one in the lot, it's difficult to single out a song for comment. But still it's hard not to mention Storm Comin'. This rousing gospel number by Moody has become a crowd favorite at live shows, where the group performs it a cappella, accompanied to great effect with only hand-rubbing, clapping, and stomping feet. For the studio version, stunning yet minimal instrumentation is added. The subtle opening chords perfectly evoke the shimmering electric feeling that the air takes on as a summer thunderstorm bears down.
The album's closing song, by Mehta, is somewhat ominously entitled Last Goodbye. But the lyrics appear to refer not to saying goodbye forever, but rather never having to say goodbye again. Let's hope that's the meaning here, and that we'll continue to be treated to dazzling albums like this from The Wailin' Jennys for many years to come.