Wailin' Jennys,
(Red House, 2006)

I'm sure there's a reason why this Winnipeg-based trio decided to parody the name of the late country singer Waylon Jennings. In any event, I suppose that groups must have names, and this one, however silly, will have to do. The Wailin' Jennys' music, it perhaps needs to be noted, has nothing to do with Jennings' and is country -- even Jennings' brand of adventurous country -- by nobody's definition. It comes out of a folk revival going on in Canada among young musicians who are fashioning a roots music for the 21st century.

In this, their second recording for St. Paul's Red House Records, Annabelle Chvostek has replaced Cara Lofts, joining founding members Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody. David Travers-Smith, who has worked with rock singers in the past, produces, putting a full band's pop gloss on much of the material -- which is OK, since much of the material is only vaguely folk, whatever the trad-sounding, banjo-driven first two cuts (Chvostek's "The Devil's Paintbrush Road" and Moody's "Glory Bound") may lead you to anticipate.

Equal parts pop-rock and folk-rock, Firecracker is an improvement on the band's decent but somewhat tentative-sounding 40 Days (2004). My tastes incline me toward the folk-oriented material, especially the unaccompanied, starkly lovely "Long Time Traveller" (the old hymn usually called "Long Time Traveling Here Below") and the two above-mentioned songs.

Except for "Traveller," all the songs are composed within the band. Not all of it is to my taste, but all of it is capably done. I suspect, however, that the Jennys' music is more likely to find full appreciation among their young contemporaries.

by Jerome Clark
26 August 2006

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