We were very blown away in our review of the last Wailin' Jennys CD, 40 Days. But Firecracker is a faster, bigger horse of a different color. Since last we left our heroines, that horse has run and won a lot of races.
And the cast is new. The very talented Cara Luft left the group (her new record will soon be covered in these pages) and was replaced by Annabelle Chvostek, who brought great songs with her and plays acoustic guitar, mandolin, and violin, and sings, well...sings as good as you'd have to sing to be in this group.
The vocal blend is the first aspect I noticed that had hit a new level. They're now a seasoned outfit, top of the game. It's a folk record, sure, but it's uptown. Producer David Travers-Smith does a brilliant job in every aspect, as well as playing trumpet, E Flat Peck Horn, Hammond M3, and percussion. Many of the fabulous players from the last record again appear, notably Kevin Breit and Mike Hardwicke on guitars and dobros, the former additionally on National and mandolin. Christian Dugas is stellar on skins throughout, this time mostly with Joe Phillips on acoustic bass, though three other bassists cameo.
While I've not yet had the pleasure, from many quarters I've heard how great this group is live. Recently a friend who was helping run sound at the Kate Wolf Festival in Northern CA called and said the Wailin' Jennys were the best act on the bill, had I heard of them. Yes, indeed.
This new member, Annabelle Chvostek, has got the over-the-top eclecticity that's the x factor in the chemistry of the trio, and the choice is inspired. (Check out her solo discs, iTunes makes it so easy.) From afar, Ruth Moody seems to the cover the angelic side of the tracks, and the Celtic influence. (She was formerly the lead singer of Scrüj McDuhk, which morphed into The Duhks.) Nicky Mehta epitomizes the classy, deep, darker songwriter angle. (Her solo CD Weather Vane won a 2002 Canadian Music Award.) Annabelle brings the jazz, the wild child from Slovenia vibe. They're each artistes of a different stripe, which makes the combination all the more potent. (And then they're all super hot, so they got that going for 'em.)
The two openers begin with Ruth Moody's bell-like banjo tones, first on what must be the single, Annabelle's "The Devil's Paintbrush Road," which originally appeared on her Burn My Ass EP from 2005 on the Massive Quantities of Good Vibes label. The opener pulls you in, on the second one Ruth chills you out, and the third one Nicky gives it to you right between the eyes. I noticed that on the last one; it's like a sonic cocktail, and they got the medication right.
With Red House Records as their U.S. home, this should be the year that The Wailin' Jennys crack it even harder in the States. They're touring the world, with labels and agencies in the UK (where they are at this writing) and Australia. If you're not on to The Wailin' Jennys yet, then get on board. There's no stopping this outfit.
And tune in next month, when we interview them.
see our earlier interview with Nicky Mehta
and thanks to Waldo Jaquith (Mr. Fireworks)