THE WAILIN’ JENNYS – FIFTEEN

Photo by Morten Fog

One of today’s most respected folk groups, The Wailin’ Jennys are releasing their first new recording in six years, Fifteen. This long-awaited follow-up to Bright Morning Stars finds the trio bringing their passion and stellar musicianship to a carefully curated collection of some of their favourite songs, including tracks by Tom Petty, Emmylou Harris and Dolly Parton. For members Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse, Fifteen celebrates a 15-year musical partnership that has created three award-winning, Billboard-charting studio albums and one magical live recording and brought them a loyal worldwide fanbase.

Steeped in the artistry and elegance that has defined their career, Fifteen presents The Wailin’ Jennys at their very best. Opening with their stark yet exquisite rendering of ‘Old Churchyard’, sung a cappella over a single droning viola tone, the album then shifts to a gorgeous full-band acoustic version of Tom Petty’s ‘Wildflowers’. Other highlights include their moving interpretation of Emmylou Harris’ ‘Boulder to Birmingham’, their update of Paul Simon’s ‘Loves Me Like a Rock’ (from a women’s point of view) and songs by Jane Siberry, Warren Zevon and Patty Griffin. They also do an achingly beautiful a cappella version of Dolly Parton’s ‘Light of a Clear Blue Morning’ that resonates as a call to hope in these troubled political times.

All three of the Jennys now have young children and – coupled with living in two countries and different sides of the North American continent – making the time to record has been a challenge.

“We are all mothers now, living in different cities, so we knew we couldn’t spend a month in the studio the way we used to”, Moody says. “Nicky and Heather could only be away from their boys for a week, which gave us five days! So we decided to do something that was true to our live show. Arranging other people’s songs has been something we’ve enjoyed doing since the beginning, so we thought that a covers album would be fun to do, especially given the time restraints. Even so, it was a little nuts. We were arranging harmonies on the fly… my son was just shy of three months old and I was feeding him every couple of hours… Nicky had a bad cold which made things tricky for her. But we just went with it, and trusted that it would all work out; maybe that’s the thing we’ve gotten better at as mothers.”

Produced by The Wailin’ Jennys and engineered by Joby Baker, the album also features additional musicians Richard Moody (Ruth’s brother), Sam Howard, Adrian Dolan and Adam Dobres.

NPR wrote of their last Newport Folk Fest appearance, “The Wailin’ Jennys are more than just impeccable bluegrass harmonizers; they’re also terrific bandleaders who give their traditional roots music a sense of real reverence.” It’s this respect for their craft, as well as the Wailin’ Jennys heartfelt, impeccable vocal performances, that has cemented the trio’s reputation in folk and roots music circles.

Starting as a happy accident of solo singer-songwriters getting together for a one-time-only performance at a tiny guitar shop in Winnipeg, Manitoba, The Wailin’ Jennys have earned their place as one of today’s most beloved international folk groups. Founding members Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta, along with New York-based Heather Masse, continue to create some of the most exciting and exquisite music on the folk-roots scene, stepping up their musical game with each critically-lauded recording and thrilling audiences with their renowned live performances.

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the THE WAILIN’ JENNYS – FIFTEEN link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

The Wailin’ Jennys – Fifteen – Track by Track

Some of the covers are songs we’ve had arranged for a while but haven’t had the chance to record. The others were brought to the mix for this record. They are all songs that are close to our heart for one reason or another or that feel appropriate for the times.

Old Churchyard – This is an English traditional song, evocative and otherworldly, as traditional music often is. Waterson-Carthy did a version that is very spirited, almost like a march. We took a more gentle approach.

Wildflowers – We’ve been singing this Tom Petty song for a few years and a lot of fans have asked us to record it, so we finally did. It’s just a great song, and it feels really good to sing it.

The Valley – We all think this is the most beautiful song. It is deep and compassionate…a spiritual anthem, with a touch of Jane Siberry eccentricity. Nicky brought this one to the band and suggested we trade off lead vocals. The boys dug deep in their performance. Richy added some gorgeous string parts. It was one of those things that just came together magically.

Light of a Clear Blue Morning – We were asked to arrange this song for an independent Canadian film called ‘The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom’, which featured Dolly’s music and received her stamp of approval. What can we say – we love Dolly, and this is a mammoth of a song, so we were honoured to do so.

Loves Me Like a Rock – Heather thought this would be fun to do with the Jennys, and she was right. We tend to gravitate towards the serious, so it’s good for us to lighten up once and a while. It’s a feel-good Paul Simon classic that feels ever appropriate.

Boulder to Birmingham – I have loved this song for as long as I’ve loved songs – it’s such a poignant and heartbreaking tribute to a lost love. The fact that Emmylou wrote it after Gram Parson’s death makes it all the more meaningful. I’ve always wanted to try it with the Jennys but the melody really weaves around, which can be challenging for creating harmonies. I love what we ended up with. The high part in particular ventures way out of Nicky’s normal range, but she nailed it. This was another one that felt magical when it was going down – we performed it a few times, but in the end we chose the first take.

Not Alone – Penned by the magnificent Patty Griffin and suggested by Heather, Not Alone is a tragic rendering of a life lost suddenly and a loved one left behind. Despite the gravity of the tale, it carries with it a message of deep hope and love. The haunting strains of Richard’s viola and Adam’s electric guitar make this song cut straight to the bone.

Keep Me in Your Heart – Warren Zevon wrote this song at the end of his life after battling cancer. It’s a beautiful sentiment – a piece of himself left for his family and friends, and the rest of us! Richy, Sam and Adam came up with a beautiful string arrangement in the studio and we think it really made the song come to life.

Weary Blues From Waitin’ – This Hank Williams song was one of the first songs the three of us sang together, the night we met Heather at The World Cafe in Philadelphia. We wanted to see how our voices blended, so we ducked into a public bathroom, locked the door, and sang a few songs. I’m pretty sure we asked her to join the band right then and there.

Artist web links:

www.thewailinjennys.com
www.facebook.com/thewailinjennys

O’HOOLEY & TIDOW – Winterfolk Vol 1 (No Masters NMCD51)

WinterFolkMy first Christmas review of the year, it seems to have become de rigueur now that at some point the great and good of the contemporary British folk scene should release an album of festive material. Kate Rusby’s third is due shortly, last year it was Cara Dillon’s turn and now Belinda and Heidi get in on the act. However, being who they are, this isn’t your usual tidings of comfort and joy as they turn a musical eye on the darker corners of the yuletide season. Case in point being a rework of ‘One More Xmas’ from their 2010 album Silent June which offsets a poignant reminiscence of childhood and memories of mum with scenes of domestic abuse, the new version featuring string arrangement for cello and violin with Chumbawamba’s Jude Abbott on swelling flugelhorn solo.

On a similarly poignant, sung unaccompanied, the self-penned ‘Winter Folk Carol’ serves reminder of the need to connect with others, especially at Christmas, and to remember those displaced by war, homelessness, family issues, debt and bereavement as the sing “may there always be a hand to hold”.

A mix of originals, traditional and covers, there’s a couple of other revisits to past work. ‘The Last Polar Bear’ originally appeared on 2012’s The Fragile, restyled here with a more stately, contemplative arrangement anchored by Jo Silverston’s cello and reworked lyrics focusing on loss and loneliness, Likewise, ‘Calling Me’ is another from that same album and also concerns being alone with its hints of death in “Mother Nature’s fingers reaching for my own.”

The starkly sung, cello drone ‘Whitehorn’ goes further back to when O’Hooley was part of Rachel Unthank & The Winterset, the song written for the 2007 album The Bairns and being based on the true story of her Irish great grandmother, the title referring to the tree under which her stillborn babies, being denied a Catholic burial, were laid to rest.

Originally performed by Belinda on her 2013 Lullabies tour with Jackie Oates, the unaccompanied ‘Wexford Lullaby’, written by John Renbourn, is based on the 12th century ‘Wexford Carol’. There’s also two actual traditional carols, first up being a magnificent classical instrumental reading of the 16th Century ‘The Coventry Carol’, recorded in one take with O’Hooley playing the Steinway grand piano at the Museum of Art in Machynlleth. The other, drawing on the duo’s German and Irish heritage and sung in both German and English, is a haunting take on the evergreen ‘Stille Nacht’, dedicated to those babies under the whitehorn. It also rounds off the album with a brief reprise, recorded as they warmed up, Heidi distantly humming the refrain and Belinda tracing out a minimal piano accompaniment.

As mentioned, there’s also covers, the album opening with Steve Ashley’s suitably invitation to break out the ‘Fire & Wine’ with the heralding of winter, while, a staple of the duo’s WinterFolk shows, opening a cappella, Richard Thompson’s ‘We Sing Hallelujah’ strikes a jubilant and joyous complete with tumbling brass from Abbott.

The final number is their arrangement of the song voted Britain’s all time Christmas favourite, ‘Fairytale Of New York’. Previously covered by the likes of Christy Moore, Ronan Keating and Maire Brennan, Razorlight, Amy Macdonald, Damien Dempsey and Sinead O’Connor, The Wurzels and, god help us, Tony Hadley, none sound remotely like this, slow seven-minute version with its strings accompanied waltz on which they do, as the press release puts it, wraps fairy lights around the words.

They’re out on this year’s WinterFolk tour from the start of December and I’d imagine pretty much everything here will feature prominently in the set. If you can’t make a gig, treat yourself to an early present and grab mince pie, a glass of mulled wine and settle back with a copy of the CD.

Mike Davies

If you would like to order a copy of the album (in CD or Vinyl), download it or just listen to snippets of selected tracks (track previews are usually on the download page) then click on the O’HOOLEY & TIDOW – Winterfolk Vol 1 link to be taken to our associated partner Amazon’s website. Buying through Amazon on folking.com helps us to recover a small part of our running costs, so please order anything you need as every little purchase helps us.

ORDER – [CD]

Artists’ website: www.ohooleyandtidow.com

‘Fairytale Of New York’ – live:

The Stoned Cherries release their debut album

Stoned Cherries

The Stoned Cherries are a folk band with a twist. Their material is a mix of original songs, traditional tunes and the occasional cover. The band is rooted in traditional and modern folk genres from England, Ireland, North America and the Caribbean, but 60s and 70s prog-rock influences can also surface in some of their material. Their lyrics are carefully crafted, while stage shows are full of energy and have a touch of Tabasco about them. The Cherries create a close relationship with audiences and have a relaxed line in banter and humour.

Baked In A Pie is their debut album release, recorded at the Cobnash Studios in Herefordshire, and features fourteen tracks, a mix of traditional and original tunes and songs, one of which, ‘Witches Flight’ is now the signature tune for the Saint FM Folk Show.

They are: Aly May from near Bromyard, Herefordshire – whistles and backing vocals; Dave Evans from Knightwick, Worcestershire –  acoustic and electric guitars,  mandolin, lead and backing vocals; Matt Donaldson from Clun, Shropshire – bass guitar, foot drum, acoustic guitar, piano accordion and backing vocals; Roger Pugh  from Bromyard – acoustic guitar,  mandola, spoons, lead and backing vocals. Dave and Roger write the songs and original tunes.

The band has been together for about three years in their current line-up. Past bookings have included Fishguard Folk Festival, The Green Man Festival, Clun, Ford Fest near Market Drayton, Worcester Music Festival, England’s Gate Beer Festival, The Globe at Hay-On-Wye and many village halls, folk clubs and pubs in Powys, Cardiganshire, Herefordshire, Shropshire, Cheshire, Worcestershire, Leicestershire and beyond. Going forward, with the release of Baked In A Pie, more dates and festival appearances are currently being booked.

“Very much enjoyed the Stoned Cherries at Hereford Live – good to hear that you’re live, local and original which are the boxes we like to tick!!”  BBC Hereford and Worcs

Artists’ website: http://www.dgand2.wix.com/thestonedcherries

‘Rosalind’ from the album Baked In A Pie:

THE MINING CO. – Mountain Fires (own label)

As is increasingly fashionable these days, The Mining Co. is a one man band, although I believe he was once a trio, and that man is Michael Gallagher. Mountain Fires is his second album. The record’s packaging is pretty minimal so I have no idea who else is playing but it includes string and brass sections and a song like ‘Missing Parts’ is as rich as you could wish.

Michael’s essential style is Americana but, as he’s British, you might call it alt-folk, not a term I like much.  The opening track, ‘Julie’s Song’, is a proposal of marriage and I guess it was successful since Julie Gallagher gets a name-check on the cover. Michael pulls his voice up from somewhere in his boots and the arrangement is relatively sparse with some Dylan-ish cadences in the melody. The second song, ‘Closer’, could well be its follow-up as it celebrates a relationship and here Michael demonstrates a quite phenomenal vocal range.

Michael writes some fine lyrics and melodies but I sense a man who’d love to be fronting a stadium-filling band but, because of economic necessity, finds himself a soloist. The production, by Paco Loco at his Spanish studio, tends to overcompensate: the drums pound, a glockenspiel rings, there’s an electric organ and some very nice guitar playing. Plus an orchestra and choir which is fine for one big production number but gets a bit overwhelming when it begins at the third track and doesn’t let up. Fine songs like ‘Against The Grain’, ‘Valentine To Write’ and ‘Good Intentions’ can hold their own but are still in danger of being lost in the ocean of sound.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: https://www.facebook.com/theminingcoband/

‘Mountain Fires’:

Louis Brennan releases single from his forthcoming debut album

Louis Brennan

London-based Dubliner Louis Brennan has released the poignant first single from his upcoming debut album Dead Capital.

‘Bit Part Actor’ is a dark gem of starkly insightful folk as the emotive singer-songwriter laconically recounts a period of his life filled with bitterness, despondency and anguish.

Brennan’s brooding baritone contrasts with moments of sunlit melancholy as he tackles utter despair with remarkable charm, elegance and wit. It’s an intimate, goosebump-inducing song, raw and striking in its honesty, yet featuring the black comedy that peppers the whole album.

Brennan’s sound is resonant with Johnny Cash’s rich vocal tonality, the opulent musicality of Tindersticks and Nick Cave’s deeply intellectual lyrical prowess, creating a deep, rich sensibility which marks him out as an artist of remarkable talent and immeasurable depth of mind.

‘Bit Part Actor’ is available now on all streaming platforms. The album Dead Capital will be released in early 2018.

Artist’s website: http://www.louisbrennanmusic.com/

Listen to ‘Bit Part Actor’:

DARREN BLACK – Wisperau (own label DBCD005)

WisperauDarren Black is not a man to repeat himself. His previous album was inspired by his boyhood in industrial south Wales but Wisperau is a meditation on the seasons in rural Hampshire where he now lives. I suppose that every songwriter feels compelled to do something of the sort at some time – the trick is to be original. Darren goes for originality by writing a suite of four songs coupled with four sets of paired instrumental pieces with titles drawn from the lyrics. This gives him a chance to show off his fiddle playing but to my mind it’s a trifle short, clocking in at just about half an hour. But, come to think of it, that’s what LPs used to be back in the day.

The other good thing about this album is that all the tracks could sit comfortably into any live set. The opener, ‘Pale Winter Blue’, is a painting in words and Darren talks about deer making their silent display – I imagine that to be hoof prints in the snow. But he also remarks that a whiteout is rare these days, something that anyone who has moved to this part of the country from less balmy climes knows far too well.

‘Chalk Streams In Sunbeams’ is about the renewal of life in spring and Darren picks on the reappearance of butterflies – let’s hope that they will not become a rare sight – but also the return of migratory birds, notably seabirds coming back to their summer home on the Solent. ‘Sow It Right’ feels like a love song wrapped up in the metaphor of ploughing and sowing but it’s rather melancholy. I’d hate to think of Darren going through a bad patch but that’s how it feels. Perhaps it’s just poetic licence.

Finally, ‘Queen Of The Forest’ is another painting in words, a description of a great tree shedding its (her) leaves and standing like “a waiting mannequin” and “a sylph-like skeleton”. Somehow, Darren manages to bring a sexual element to the song, or is that just me? The production is simplicity itself: just fingerstyle acoustic guitars and voice with overdubbed violin on the tunes and ‘Queen Of The Forest’ and it’s all rather lovely.

Dai Jeffries

Artist’s website: www.darrenblack.net

‘Chalk Streams In Sunbeams’: