Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Live Music Review: The Wailin' Jennys at The Little Theatre, Gateshead, 26/05/08

Set list:

Beautiful Dawn
Bring Me Little Water Sylvie (Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter)
Glory Bound
Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child (Traditional)
Paint A Picture
Racing With the Sun (Ella Jenkins)
Deeper Well (Emmylou Harris)
Weary Blues From Waitin' (Hank Williams)
Bold Riley (Traditional)

One Voice

I was blown away by The Wailin' Jennys. This was a gig I had been anticipating eagerly for months, having bought my ticket what seemed like eons ago, stoked to have read that they were coming to Gateshead. Only later did I find out that attending this gig would mean foregoing the Bank Holiday extravaganza that is the Evolution Festival (at which Duffy, CSS and New Young Pony Club were playing, amongst others)...never mind, I was going to see The Wailin' Jennys!

I have never before seen them live, but as soon as I heard their debut album 40 Days I loved it...and I haven't stopped loving it since. The song I was hoping that they would play tonight was Arlington and, as you can see from the set list above, I didn't have to wait long. The Jennys' voices on this song were stunning. I don't know how else to put it...I could simply type the word 'beautiful' in big letters and stop there!

Founding members Ruth Moody (guitar, banjo, accordion, bodhran) and Nicky Mehta (percussion, guitar, ukelele) are now joined by Maine native Heather Masse (double bass), the third 'third Jenny', after the departure of first Cara Luft and then Annabelle Chvostek, and also, for their live performances, a male violinist dubbed "Wailin' Jeremy".

The band, who hail from Winnipeg (what is it with this UK blog and its seeming obsession with Canadian music?) initially formed when three solo performers, Moody, Mehta and Luft, came together for one performance and decided it sounded so good that they'd give things a go together. With Ruth as soprano, Nicky mezzo and Heather a deep alto, the three part harmonies, which were often a capella during the show, were like honey dripping off a warm knife. Like the rays of sun that fight through the chink in your curtains to warm your face as you lay idly in bed of a Sunday morning. Enough flowery similes? Good.

Third song Bring Me Little Water Sylvie was a capella, with Masse taking the lead, and reminded of the spine-tingling Didn't Leave Nobody But the Baby (Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch and Alison Krauss) from O Brother Where Art Thou. This was followed by the first song that Ruth (resplendent tonight in a gorgeous red dress and heels) wrote on the banjo, Glory Bound (from their second album Firecracker), which was introduced as "a non-denominational gospel song"...ah, bless! Before they started the song, Mehta shared a banjo joke (apparently a favourite form of entertainment between the group members) - "What's the definition of perfect pitch? The sound of a banjo hitting an accordion in a dumpster" (here's another one for you Nicky, courtesy of Chatham County Line - "What's the difference between a banjo and a hand grenade? Nothing. Once you hear either, it's too late!").

We the audience were encouraged to join in with Glory Bound, which elicited a general titter...Moody sang our part ("Hallelujah") in a crystal clear soprano voice, which she then encouraged us to repeat back to her...I'd say that mimicking her ridiculously pitch perfect tones was nigh on impossible...still, we tried our best!

Next up was Drivin', a number written by Masse, and therefore a song which does not appear on either of the Jennys' albums to date, as she has only subsequently joined the group (around 18 months ago). This was followed by the traditional spiritual Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child, which started out a capella and then kicked in with an irresistible beat of bodhran and snare. And on it went, uniformly wonderful.

All of the harmonies in this set were beautifully mapped out, the lasses barely hitting a bum note between them...it really was impressive. A couple more sing-a-longs and the Jennys left the stage, coming back for just one song, the heartbreakingly lovely One Voice.

All this review and I haven't even mentioned how bloody stunning Nicky Mehta is...mesmerisingly attractive. I have decided that my 'thing' must be dark-haired straight girls that sing in vocal harmony groups (d'ya reckon that's niche enough?); and surprisingly thin ones, at that, given my general penchant for fat lasses! So, if anyone out there wants to hook me up...?

Arlington - The Wailin' Jennys

Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child - Odetta
Bold Riley - Kate Rusby

Music video for Beautiful Dawn
(N.B. The third Jenny, here, is not Heather Masse but original Jenny Cara Luft)

- Wailin' Jennys website

- Wailin' Jennys MySpace

- Buy their albums here


boyhowdy said...

Wow, all the best folk music comes your way, D! I'm quite jealous of this one -- haven't yet seen the WJs live, and they do such wonderful covers...

Thanks for adding me to the blogroll, too!

Divinyl said...

Hey Boyhowdy, and welsome.

Yes, we are lucky to get some really great acts...courtesy of both local bookers the Jumpin' Hot Club (my pals) and The Sage, an amazing great silver armadillo of a venue!

They truly were excellent and you should definitely try to get along to see them.

And as for the blogroll...no worries at all; I'm glad I found your blog, I am impressed, and I love the music you post about :o)