5/3/15 – Berklee Performance Center

The Wailin’ Jennys have gained critical acclaim for their ability to seamlessly merge three voices into one. Their performance at the Berklee Performance Center on Sunday evening lived up to the hype, showcasing the talents of three uniquely gifted singer-songwriters with aptitudes for enhancing each others’ work. With a diverse set of originals (and some covers thrown in for good measure), they proved that their unity hasn’t come at the expense of their individuality.

Alto Heather Masse showed off her jazz roots with the sultry “Cherry Blossom Love.” She explained how she grew up on the standards of the Great American Songbook and had written this piece as a tribute to the style. The song was a departure from the traditional folk sound that permeates so many of The Wailin’ Jennys’ songs and served as a perfect example of the “new influences” that Nicky Mehta referred to in her pre-show interview.

Ruth Moody got the audience singing with “Glory Bound,” which features an agonizingly poignant “Hallelujah” chorus. Moody has a speaking voice that matches her soprano; it’s soft and sweet with just enough huskiness to give it an edge. She introduced the song and demonstrated the chorus to prepare the audience for their part. After her ringing voice faded from the room, there was a stunned silence. The crowd broke into nervous laughter, looking around at each other to see who would be foolish enough to try to replicate her ethereal sound. She just smiled and began to pluck her banjo. But when the chorus came around, the hall was full of voices.

Mezzo Nicky Mehta’s contemplative style came through with “Arlington,” a soul-searching lyrical exploration that builds up slowly, capitalizing on the power of the three-part harmony. While Masse and Moody had huge, welcoming grins for the audience throughout the night, Mehta appeared more meditative. This demeanor matched her musical style; of the three songwriters, her lyrics are the most complex, poetic, and haunting.

The “Jennys,” as the group often refers to themselves, were in sync both musically and personally. From my fourth-row seat, I could see the easy warmth of the smiles that they shared. They hardly had to look at each other to start an a cappella song, their starting pitches barely audible. Ruth’s brother Richard Moody rounded out their sound on violin and viola. A lot of their stage banter was about their families. Masse spoke adoringly of her two-and-a-half-year old son, and Mehta informed us that singing and dancing are “forbidden” in her household by her five-year-old twin boys, Beck and Finn. While singing at the kitchen sink one evening, she was solemnly told:

“Mummy, it’s bad.” Fortunately for The Wailin’ Jennys, their fans disagree.

From talking to Mehta prior to the show, it was apparent that social justice and compassion are important themes to the group. This came through on Sunday night. Before the show started, Mehta came out to greet the audience and explain the presence of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), which had posters and brochures in the lobby. She described how NAMI works on a “shoestring budget” to alleviate the stigma associated with mental illness. In exchange for donations to NAMI of any amount, audience members were entered into a raffle to win the Wailin’ Jennys’ CD library and a T-shirt.

The Jennys closed the show with Moody’s award-winning “One Voice,” an ode to unity that has been covered by artists worldwide. There could not have been a more fitting way to end the night.

One and Three: The Wailin' Jennys
Pros
  • Masterful harmonies
  • Smooth multi-instrumentalism
  • Thoughtful lyrics
Cons
  • First two songs were a little stiff
9Immersive

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