Saturday Sounds: Wailin’ Jennys

If you’re like me, a typical week of work, socializing and other commitments sometimes leaves you just wanting to relax. While a cold beer or a glass of wine can help a person unwind, so too can music. Enter the Wailin’ Jennys, a Canadian-based trio whose silvery voices and down-to-earth stage presence help melt away stress just as well.

Saw them in concert this week at the Aladdin Theater, my favorite small venue in Portland, and they were wonderful. Two of them hail from Winnipeg and the third from New York. One grew up in a musical family, is classically trained, and plays guitar, banjo and accordion. Another studied jazz in college and plays the upright bass. The third is self-taught and plays guitar, snare drum and harmonica. Two of the three are moms. The brother of one band member plays fiddle.

Individually, each has a lovely voice. Together, their three-part harmonies are on another level, soothing and almost spiritual. Each of the Jennys writes original compostions, yet they also do covers of Emmylou Harris, Tom Petty and Dolly Parton songs. They do jazz and gospel, bluegrass and folk.

Thursday night was the second of two sold-out shows and it was just them — two sets with a brief intermission. If you didn’t know better, you’d think you had dropped in on an episode of “Portlandia.” The Jennys would be easy to mock — and they’d laugh right along with you, given their regular appearances on “A Prairie Home Companion” and Canadian-friendly vibe.

There were requisite references to “putting a bird on it”; appeals to the audience to donate to the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (a favorite nonprofit of theirs); and a suggestion from band member Ruth Moody (wearing a braid in her hair and cowboy boots) that everyone meet for breakfast the next day in a meadow somewhere under some blossoms;

Their touring schedule takes them on a circuit of small towns, college campuses and small concert halls in mid-sized cities.I imagine Thursday’s crowd was a representative sample of their fan base — graying boomers, Gen Xers, twenty-somethings and a few teenagers, all heavily skewed female.

The evening ended with a raffle for a CD set, with the winner called up to the stage to receive his prize from band member Nicky Mehta, and a three-song encore that ended with the a cappella “Parting Glass.” If you’re in the mood for mellow, by all means check out this wholesome trio. They’ll be in Portland again this fall.

Here they are on Canadian TV:

My favorite song of theirs:




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