Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Wailin' Jennys, Burton Cummings Theatre Winnipeg, 1st November 2014 8/10

My fascination with polar bears brings me to Winnipeg, Manitoba annually, and I always try to experience the local music scene. This year, I was lucky to experience the first concert for three years by the local but internationally renowned folk trio The Wailin’ Jennys. As I type this, I’m travelling by train through the Canadian prairies on the early stage of an epic 48 hour journey to the sub-Arctic. Music and travel have an affinity, and so it’s particularly fortuitous when I can combine the two. In Winnipeg, I always feel that the music scene has a close connection to the local community, and the historic Burton Cummings Theatre in downtown is being revived thanks to their efforts. The Jennys, keen to give something back, dedicated the concert to the Canadian Mental Health Association, and over $1000 was raised for this organisation last night.

This was an occasion for Winnipeg as the end of a an hiatus whilst the group had been preoccupied with their young children. It was also the first airing hear of their 2011 album Bright Morning Stars in their home town, which won a Juno award. They’ve been performing for 13 years and in 2004 their first full length 40 days also gained a Juno. As Nicky Mehta explained wittily, it was also the first time her five year old twins had seen their mother sing in public. The atmosphere couldn’t have been more different from St. Vincent in Manchester: whereas she creates a fantastical artwork, the Jennys are grounded. Above all, beauty was emphasised, and the energy was less extrovert. Two of the group are have a classically trained background, which manifests itself in the purity of the vocals, and the technical accuracy. It also reflects the polite Canadian character, and the rapport with the audience showed its warmth.

The Jennys are far from reserved in their chatter, mixing humour with an explanation of the circumstances behind the songs’ creation. So we learned that Across The Sea, one of their finest songs, was written whilst Heather Masse was touring, travelling on a ferry from Ireland to England, regretting her husband’s absence. The two sets closed with audience participation, in the form of sing alongs, and they were met with genuine adoration. Energy was also injected by the addition of three backing musicians, playing largely acoustic instruments, and the main trio embraced banjo, ukulele, fiddle, upright bass and drums. Their easy going, tonal music creates a sense of serene contentment. It’s a creation that has not been without commercial success, and they’ve toured the world widely in support of their albums.

Yet, of course the gig was all about virtuosic vocal harmony, which at times was reminiscent of the some of the US classical group Anonymous Four’s crossover albums. Yet, here I particularly appreciated Heather Masse’s contribution. Unlike the two Canadians, this American is steeped in  jazz, and brings a rhythmic  influence that made songs such as Cherry Blossom the most compelling of the evening. Her facial expressions were also a joy to observe, and in fact the enthusiasm of all those on stage was uplifting. As so often with folk musicians, they embrace not only their community but embody a love of the natural world. So this was the perfect prelude to a pilgrimage to observe some of earth’s most majestic, and vulnerable creatures in the north of the continent.

  • Asleep at last
  • Swing Low
  • Birdsong
  • Arlington
  • Wearly Blues
  • Deeper Well
  • Across the Sea
  • Begin
  • Glory Bound
  • Dolly
  • Beautiful Dawn
  • Wild Flowers
  • Away
  • Cherry Blossom
  • Last Goodbye
  • Goodnight
  • One Voice

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