The Wailin’ Jennys—Nicky Mehta, Cara Luft and Ruth Moody—were each pursuing solo folkie careers when Fate caused their paths to cross at a Winnipeg guitar shop in 2002. Fate also saw fit to bless the group with an inspired soprano/mezzo/alto mix, the fruits of which can be heard on the group’s debut album 40 Days, proving that one plus one plus one needn’t merely equal the sum of its parts.
The trio’s press kit readies listeners for “spine-tingling” harmonies, but I’ll let that slide. Because, while my spine felt nary a tingle, my head and heart did register something approximating pleasure. The song selection negotiates a fine balance between familiar and new material. Covers of Neil Young’s “Old Man” and John Hiatt’s “Take It Down” are well-chosen, as are the two English folk traditionals, “Saucy Sailor” (which I remember from an early-’70s Steeleye Span album) and “The Parting Glass.” Each member contributes original songs, and while nobody embarrasses herself, Nicky Mehta’s songs (“Arlington,” “This is Where,” and “Ten Mile Stilts”) are particularly memorable, full of striking imagery and the contradictory attractions of commitment and independence. The three Jennys’ voices are pleasant if a bit nondescript, but sparks ignite when they intertwine those plaintive harmonies.
The Be Good Tanyas suddenly have some competition for outstanding Canadian folk trio, and 40 Days is a very strong debut indeed.