The Wailin’ Jennys—Fifteen
2017, Red House Records

The Wailin’ Jennys’ Fifteen celebrate fifteen years of putting their beautiful voices to magnificent songs, in this case a collection of covers that will be familiar to those who live for this sort of thing. Ruth Moody, Nicky Mehta and Heather Masse don’t just sing well together, they are harmony singers, soprano, mezzo and alto. Whether they are reinventing the songs, changing the phrasing or rhythm, or simply applying their lovely, rangy voices, they always give you a reason to hear the songs in a new way. With the exception of Paul Simon’s “Loves Me Like a Rock” with finger snaps, hand-claps and foot stomps as the only accompaniment, the trio favors curiously sober songs for young moms. The Wailin’ Jennys have the talent and empathy to cover Emmylou Harris’s “Boulder to Birmingham,” a song that welled up from a heart broken by the death of Gram Parsons. This is a tricky cover because the original was so personal to Harris and her vocals are so unpredictable. The Wailin’ Jennys’ version stays pretty close to the original, matching the pace and to a certain extent, the phrasing. The production is a little simpler, losing strings and keyboard for a more acoustic feel. One is struck by the way the complex three-part harmonies capture the ache of the song. In “The Valley,” the creative harmonies of the three woman capture the essence of another idiosyncratic vocalist, Jane Siberry. “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” is a Dolly Parton cover. It is a song of hope that sounds like it was written for our divided times, but it was written in the late ‘70s as Parton started to see her way clear after splitting with musical partner Porter Wagoner. This transcendent a cappella version turns the song into a hymn of healing. [The song was arranged for the movie, “The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom.” Here is a quick review of that movie… “See it!”] Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers” became a song that many of his fans turned to as an epitaph when he died in 2017. The Wailin’ Jennys’ cover is faithful to the original in tempo, but the harmonies and string arrangement reveal the full spiritual glory of the song. Their versions of Warren Zevon’s farewell, “Keep Me In Your Heart,” and the traditional “Old Churchyard,” are brave and affirming in the face of death. These are good times to turn to powerful songs for strength, and Fifteen will fill you with harmony and hope. —Michael Devlin