The Wailin' Jennys Biography
Last updated: 07/05/2006
This is the sound of voices three
Singing together in harmony
Surrendering to the mystery
This is the sound of voices three
--"One Voice", Ruth Moody
When chance shakes hands with discovery, it earns itself a new word: serendipity.
How serendipitous, then, has been the career of the Wailin' Jennys?
Looking at the current incarnation of the Jennys, soprano Ruth Moody, mezzo Nicky Mehta, and alto Annabelle Chvostek, it would seem like few groups could be so perfectly aligned, by fate or by design. It is no wonder that music critics are inclined to phrase their descriptions in honeyed phrases. The Jennys, music reviewers say, make music that is "lush," "luscious" and "sweet." Their masterful three-part vocal harmonies are "haunting" and they "shimmer."
Behind the words, however, there are the songs: an informed mix of original and traditional tunes that visit a variety of roots styles, focusing on harmony but grounded by a moving and intricate instrumental base. And behind the songs, there is a tale worth the telling. So let's begin, as all good stories do, at the very beginning.
On a cold Winnipeg night in January of 2002, three of Winnipeg's most accomplished singer-songwriters prepared to take the stage at a cozy music store and erstwhile concert venue. Nicky was a folk scene veteran (her debut album, Weather Vane, would soon be nominated for a 2002 Canadian Music Award for Outstanding Roots Recording), as was Ruth, who had been a member of the Juno-nominated roots act Scruj MacDuhk. The third member of the trio was Cara Luft, who had been making waves in Winnipeg since arriving in the city in 2000.
As the three sat down to strum and sing for a one-night-only trio performance, they were excited about a playful departure from their solo careers. When they began to weave their voices together, however, it would seem that serendipity was dealing them a different hand. What they began separately, they would continue together.
Fans would later describe the sold-out first show as divine: an enchanted union of three powerful voices that made the kind of melodic magic that audiences yearn for, but rarely get to witness. A second performance was swiftly added, and when it became clear that the magic was there to stay, Sled Dog Music owner John Sharples stepped forward to offer the three women a name that would seal the deal: the Wailin' Jennys.
Within a month, the newly christened trio was a bona fide Canadian sensation. In February of 2002, they showcased at the North American Folk Alliance to shoulder-to-shoulder crowds. Artistic directors from festivals across Canada came knocking, and the Jennys suddenly found themselves looking at a jam-packed summer tour schedule.
As the momentum built, the Wailin' Jennys seemed a group destined to rise to the top of the North American roots scene. Buoyed by a passionately loyal fan base, the Jennys toured for two years before releasing their debut album, 40 Days, in April of 2004.
The record was an instant hit with critics and fans alike, being hailed across North America as one of the finest roots records of the year. It was praised for its accomplished musical depth and the artistry of the three dazzling voices, celebrated for its sparkling original compositions and delightful traditional jaunts. The three Jennys seemed to be embarking on an incredible journey together, bringing their unique and powerfully moving sound to audiences around the world.
But even the most enchanted fairy tale meets with sadness before progressing to its happy ending: for the Jennys, that moment came in October of 2004. Fresh from picking up a Western Canadian Music Award for Outstanding Roots Recording (40 Days had also been nominated for Outstanding Album - Independent), Cara decided to leave the group and announced that she was hanging up her Jenny hat to return to her roots as a solo artist.
The blow to the group's momentum was a hard one. In saying goodbye to Cara, Nicky and Ruth were faced with more than just the tough challenge of finding another alto: where could they find the kind of vocal, musical, and personal chemistry that existed with the first incarnation of the trio?
As Nicky and Ruth began the search for a new Jenny, one name began to stand out amongst the rest. Friends were raving about the sound of experimental singer-songwriter Annabelle Chvostek, and the Jennys were curious: at first glance, the Montreal-based Annabelle seemed almost too good to be true. She was a graceful vocalist, an accomplished guitarist and violinist, and came from a broad musical background: all things that were integral to the Jennys' sound.
When the three women met up in Toronto to try singing together, the magic that had begun on a cold January night was rekindled. The blend of their voices was serene, the energy in the room undeniable: serendipity had once again played its part.
Filling Cara's shoes would be impossible; instead, Annabelle brought her own. As she began to settle into the group's sound, the singer-songwriter brought with her a wealth of fresh perspectives. Her experimental flair and background in traditional Slavic rhythms and cabaret singing brought a unique edge, while her roots influences were an instant fit with the Jennys' repertoire. Rehearsing with Ruth and Nicky, Annabelle led the trio to throw open new musical doors, exploring exciting melodic avenues and breathing new life into the old.
That's how it came to be that, at the beginning of December, 2004, Annabelle was officially named as the new Jenny. Reinvigorated, the trio once again began to fill up their calendars with tour dates, paving the path for 2005 with a new member, a fresh and yet familiar sound, and the proof that the tale of the Wailin' Jennys would indeed lead to a happy ending.
Soprano Ruth Moody, former lead singer of the Juno-nominated roots act Scruj MacDuhk, is well known for her pure voice and impressive multi-instrumentalism. A classically trained vocalist and pianist known first as an accomplished, versatile singer of traditional and Celtic music, her own writing shines in its diversity and maturity. She is known equally for her moving and haunting ballads as her down-home, upbeat numbers and her first recording "Blue Muse" as well as her writing for the Jennys, reveals an exciting new talent.
Mezzo Nicky Mehta has been called a poet and songwriter of exceptional depth and maturity whose ability to "walk with sorrow" has made her music vital and hopeful; Mehta's songs reflect a wisdom sometimes hard-won but never uncelebrated. Her first album "Weather Vane" was nominated for a 2002 Canadian Music Award for Outstanding Roots Recording and she was recently been counted among the most promising up and coming singer-songwriters in North America by the venerable Sing Out! publication.
Alto Annabelle Chvostek is an innovative singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who performed her first gig at the age of seven with the Canadian Opera Company. She broke on the Montreal cabaret scene in early 1997 with her soulful acoustic jazz-pop and quickly became a major presence in Montreal's music scene. There, she's shared the stage with Dar Williams, Veda Hille, Kinnie Starr, Martha Wainwright, Tegan and Sara, and Penny Lang. Her distinct multidisciplinary bent has also led her to undertake numerous collaborative projects in video, dance and music and she has toured extensively through Canada and Europe.