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The Wailin' Jennys
Firecracker
Review By Steven Stone
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  This tri-girl musical aggregate hails from Canada. Firecracker represents their second release, following their 2004 debut album, 40 Days. During the ensuing two years one founding member, Cara Luft, left to pursue a solo career, and the Jennys have replaced her with the equally talented Montreal-based songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Annabelle Chvostek. On Firecracker we have the opportunity to hear how altering the ingredients in a musical soufflé changes the final results. Even with a new contributor the Jenny's music is still very tasty.

As on their first release, The Jennys perform almost nothing but original material. Annabelle Chvostek contributes four songs, as do Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody. One traditional tune, "Long Time Traveler," arranged by the Jennys completes the CD's roster. Their brand of modern folk combines equal parts of Celtic with Appalachian, blues, and old-time country and wraps it all up with pitch-perfect multi-lead vocals. The Jennys exploit their three voices to the fullest with multi-part harmonies and clever use of double leads in every song. Although each Jenny has a different song-writing style they all share a love and respect for beautiful melodic lines and a willingness to involve the other members in every song. Without the liner notes I doubt many listeners could identify which song came from which writer's pen.

Although the Jennys play quite a few instruments among themselves, with Chvostek on guitar, mandolin, and violin, Mehta on guitar and harmonica, and Moody on guitar, accordion, and banjo, they have a good-sized band to back them up on Firecracker. Christian Dugas plays drums, Joe Phillips plays acoustic bass, Mike Hardwick plays electric guitar, acoustic guitar, and dobro, Kevin Breit, Justin Abedin, and Brian McMillan play electric guitars, national guitar, dobro, and mandolin, Richard Moody plays viola and violin, Mark Mariash plays tambourine and additional percussion, Andrew Downing plays acoustic bass, John Dymond and Grant Johnson play electric bass, and producer David Travers-Smith adds trumpet, E flat peck horn, Hammond M3 organ and percussion. Even so many players at his disposal the album never sounds over-produced. Amplified instruments co-exist with the acoustic ones, and usually the electrics reside well back in the mix, preserving the tunes folksy feel. The Jenny's voices are the true lead instruments on every song in Firecracker. I can't fault David Travers-Smith's production decisions. The sonics never obscure or dilute the emotional impact of the Jenny's music.

If you haven't had the opportunity to hear the Wailin' Jennys' first album, or listen to them at any of the many festivals they've played during the last two years, Firecracker presents a first-rate opportunity to enjoy their powerful yet distinctly feminine musical style. As the French, and most likely the French-Canadians say, "Vive La Difference!"

 

 

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