Firecracker is the second full-length album from the Canadian trio The Wailin' Jennys. Their first, 40 Days, won a Juno (the Canadian equivalent of a Grammy) as roots and traditional album of the year, and set a very high standard. But Firecracker clearly escapes the sophomore jinx that so often afflicts second albums. How does it do it?
Maybe it's the result of the change in personnel -- alto Cara Luft left the group in late 2004 and Annabelle Chvostek joined soprano Ruth Moody and mezzo Nicky Mehta. Maybe it's the two years they've taken since the release of 40 Days. Maybe it's the hundreds of live shows they`ve done, including four guest appearances on A Prairie Home Companion in just seven months during 2005. Maybe it's the shift in musical focus -- gone are Luft's Celtic influenced songs; added is a more country flavor, enhanced by a talented array of backup musicians. But probably more than anything, Firecracker escapes the jinx because of what hasn't changed from 40 Days -- the beautifully composed, flawlessly executed, exquisitely gorgeous three-part close harmony.
Firecracker includes twelve original compositions with instrumental backup, plus one traditional song, Long Time Traveler, arranged by the Jennys and sung a cappella. Moody, Mehta and Chvostek each wrote four of the originals. Although each Jenny has a distinctive writing style, the songs work well together, and show a range of related influences, from alt-country, to contemporary folk, to Appalachian/roots. And although each Jenny has a very distinctive voice, and each sings lead on her own songs, the three voices blend together perfectly to produce their trademark harmonies.
Firecracker should win the Jennys many new fans. And for those lucky enough to see the trio live, it's an experience not soon forgotten. With gentle humor and multi-instrumental virtuosity, the Jennys quickly win over audiences. But the most striking thing, of course, is their distinctively lush harmony. It's just as flawless in their live shows, demonstrating that their sublime sound has nothing to do with studio wizardry, and everything to do with talent, lots of hard work, and an obvious passion for their music and their performances.