Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Wailin’ Jennys – Bright Morning Stars; Good Lovelies – Let the Rain Fall

The obvious similarity between the Wailin’ Jennys and the Good Lovelies are that they’re both Canadian – although the Jennys now include an American member – trios of sublime harmony singers. But, the similarities pretty much end there as shown on the fine new CDs the groups have released this month. The Jennys' songs are – mostly – quieter and more subtle and reveal more each time they’re heard. The Good Lovelies are more upbeat and just plain fun from the get-go.

Bright Morning Stars
True North Records (Canada)
Red House Records (U.S.)

Bright Morning Stars is the Winnipeg-based Wailin’ Jennys third full-length studio album and each of those albums has featured a slightly different line-up.

Their debut EP, The Wailin’ Jennys, and first full-length studio album, 40 Days, featured original members Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Cara Luft.

Firecracker, the second full-length studio album, featured Nicky, Ruth and Annabelle Chvostek; while on the 2009 live album, Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, and, now, Bright Morning Stars, Nicky and Ruth are joined by American singer-songwriter Heather Masse.

As I noted in my review of Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, the Wailin’ Jennys have, with each personnel change, seemingly seamlessly adapted and evolved. There was something different, but consistently Jennyish, with each change. With the live album and several years of touring with Nicky and Ruth, Heather seems like a veteran member of the trio, hardly the new Jenny on the block.

The Wailin’ Jennys take an egalitarian approach to the album. Each contributes four original songs on which she sings lead with the other two supplying their sublime harmonies and they also offer a stunning version of the traditional hymn-like “Bright Morning Stars,” sung in glorious three-part harmony.

Highlights among Nicky’s songs include the opening track, “Swing Low Sail High,” at once both a confession to love’s shortcoming and a reaffirmation of love’s endurance, and “What Has Been Done,” a mysterious ballad, seemingly about a murder, or, perhaps, a suicide, that shows the influence of traditional Appalachian folksongs.

Ruth’s highlights include “Storm Comin’,” a metaphorical piece about being prepared for what life and love have to offer, and “Asleep At Last,” a quiet, beautiful love song.

Heather’s highlights include “Mona Louise,” partly a lullaby and partly a celebration of a new life, and “Cherry Blossom Love,” a haunting song that seems almost equally derived from both the folksong and jazz ballad traditions.

As I noted in the introduction, these songs are – mostly – quiet and subtle and reveal more each time they’re heard.

Let the Rain Fall
Good Lovelies/Six Shooter

I looked up the brief reviews I wrote for the Montreal Gazette and Sing Out! magazine of the Toronto-based Good Lovelies self-titled debut album. In both reviews I mentioned the “three promising young singer-songwriters – Caroline Brooks, Kerri Ough and Sue Passmore – delightfully dress up each others’ often-delightful neo-folk, country and swing songs with irresistible three-part harmonies.” The album was on my list of favourites for 2009. The Lovelies also turned out a quick Christmas album in 2009 and are now back with Let the Rain Fall, their third full length CD.

As I mentioned in the intro, Let the Rain Fall, is upbeat and fun from the get-go. While there are a couple of songs that offer moments of sadness, most of the 13 numbers are irresistible, toe-tappers that offer sunny good cheer amid superb three-part harmonies.

While the debut album was built around songs written by each of the Good Lovelies, Let the Rain Fall’s songs – except for a fun cover of hip hop artist K-os’ “Crabbuckit” that they more than pull off – are credited jointly to the Good Lovelies. The result is that the album’s songs are one of a whole rather the sum of its parts. Is it Caroline, Kerri or Sue riding her bike through Toronto in “Backyard”? Which one is getting on the plane for a period of separation – borne of music touring, I presume – in “Every Little Thing”? Maybe it’s all of them and it really doesn’t matter much that they’ve somehow merged the individual identities.

Themes of home, or, more particularly, being away from home, and love, and missing love, run through many of these songs. But, they are an accurate reflection of the lives of young musicians plying their trade from one end of this vast country to the other and beyond.

The Good Lovelies’ arrangements blend folk, country, jazz and swing influences into something that’s always quite appealing, always very musical, and, almost always, lots of fun to listen to.

--Mike Regenstreif

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