Traveling on the information superhighway, you are often forced to move at an autobahn worthy pace; hands gripping the wheel tight with eyes focused forward looking for potential pitfalls instead of enjoying the view. No matter how much you love a record, you need to find a new one for the next day or you have nothing to write about. Unfortunately, that means you almost never have the chance to reflect on what you see in the rear view or make a return trip to a town you wished you could have stayed in for a few extra days.
For me that town is Jim Thorpe, Pennsylvania, a town I’d never even heard of before August (when I read about this record) and will most likely never actually visit, but that doesn’t mean I can’t feel the warmth of the refurbished and reconstructed Opera House that Winnipeg treasure The Wailin’ Jennys seem to call their home away from home.
Anyone ever lucky enough to see The Wailin’ Jennys live knows the experience is one you hold tight, especially when you are consumed by floating three-part harmonies, violin work and spirituals. Obviously, it’s no surprise that a perfect recording of one of their shows would be so powerful but I forgot how fantastic the girls (and Jeremy Penner of course) sound. Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House was recorded in 2008 and for many fans, it was the first introduction to the newest member, Heather Masse. Unlike many live albums, it was also an introduction to a plethora of new songs.
The Jennys are one of those acts that appreciate the fact they get to sing for a living. You feel that joy on every track, along with a deep rooted respect for the artists whose songs they cover. Case in point, the wood block beat, hectic violin work and uplifting vocals they offer up on their take on the Lanois/Emmylou classic Deeper Well burns with an intensity that makes you think the band refuses to deliver anything less than their best effort while paying tribute to an artist that inspires them. The same can be said about Gershwin‘s Summertime, a track that’s been covered to death, but sounds terrific when treated with respect by talented musicians.
But the Jennys are more than covers and revisits traditional spirituals. While their beautiful take on Jane Siberry’s Calling All Angels or Gillian Welch’s One More Dollar are amazing, the set sparkles with several original gems. The loneliness that you feel on the Masse penned Driving and the inspiration you grab from Moody‘s song for peace (One Voice) show that these talented females can and should be judged on their own merits.
The Wailin’ Jennys rest on the more pop friendly, joy filled side of the Roots equation, but the talent they possess is really something. They remind us that life is worth living, and memories are worth saving. More importantly, they remind us that taking your foot off the gas is one of the best decisions you can make and the unexpected joy an unplanned stop can provide is one of life’s best gifts.