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WAILLIN JENNYS, THE - BRIGHT MORNING STARS
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Billboard-charting and JUNO Award winning The Wailin' Jennys are back with their hotly anticipated new studio album, "Bright Morning Stars".
"One of the most dynamic contemporary folk groups of the 21st century." -- Sing Out!
"fresh and exciting... first-class music" -- Vintage Guitar
“One of the most dynamic contemporary folk groups of the 21st century -- Sing Out!
“fresh and exciting...first-class music” -- Vintage Guitar --This text refers to an alternate Audio CD edition.
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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.
Compared to earlier studio albums, 'Bright Morning Stars' has a more polished sound. Whilst I prefer the more stripped back sound of those earlier albums, there is no denying that this album is beautifully put together*, and both the playing and the vocals (including the harmonies, of course) are impeccable (although I could have done without the whistling on 'Away But Never Gone') ~ *the one exception being the final track, 'Last Goodbye', which sounds over-engineered/ compressed to me.
The album comprises 12 songs penned by individual members of the band plus 1 'trad. arr.' and, as on past albums, each Jenny takes the lead vocals on her own song. There is a good range of tempos and the songs draw upon a number of different influences - including folk, pop, bluegrass, gospel and cabaret-jazz. For me, there are 4 or 5 songs on this album which are somewhat bland - the song-writing has lost some of its melodic touch of old; for sure, the songs are subtle, pretty and very easy on the ear, but they just don't hold my attention. On the other hand, there are 3 songs that I really enjoy - some comments about these :
STORM COMIN' (Ruth Moody) - A slow burning 'gospel-blues' number featuring soulful vocals from Ruth (sounding more like an alto than a soprano). Includes an understated half minute dobro solo; rhythm features dampened bass drum and electric bass. It's great stuff - the Jennys certainly know how to groove when they put their minds to it!
BRIGHT MORNING STARS (a cappella) (Trad. arr. The Wailin' Jennys) - If you haven't heard the Jennys sing a cappella, you haven't lived! This is right up there with 'The Parting Glass' and 'Long Time Traveller' - absolutely stunning harmonies. I'm not familiar with the song but, according to the 'Lullaby Link' website, it's a traditional Appalachian folk song.
BIRD SONG (Heather Masse) - All of the Jennys are fine singers, but Heather Masse has a seductive contralto which is a bit special - a guilty pleasure (just like luxury drinking chocolate laced with honey). She uses it to good effect on this charming mid-tempo song. The banjo (Ruth) and violin (Jeremy Penner) accompaniment lend the song more of a traditional feel than some of the others.
There are some nice instrumental touches to listen out for, including : dobro (the aforementioned 'Storm Comin''), slide electric guitar ('What Has Been Done'), flugelhorn ('Across The Sea') and high string acoustic guitar ('You Are Here').
I found this album to be rather uneven in terms of the songs, and the production is a little too polished for my own taste - but I have no complaints about the vocals or the playing; and yet again, the listener is treated to some of the sweetest (and closest) folk harmonies you're ever likely to hear - in this respect, there is no-one else to match The Wailin' Jennys (that I can think of).
I just hope that there isn't such a large gap between albums again. I want more Wailin' Jennys on my iPod.