The Wailin Jennys: Firecracker

Ed Huyck

Canadian trio makes a glorious racket with mix of traditional country-folk and elegant vocal harmonies.

The Wailin' Jennys


Label: Red House
US Release Date: 2006-06-06
UK Release Date: Available as import

Firecracker indeed. This Canadian duo's second album couldn't have come out at a better time for me. After months of hearing artists trying to be rootsy without understanding what it takes (and even worse, artists with the pedigree who have lost their way), here is a group that finds the right mix of understanding and reverence, but who know -- seemingly by instinct -- when to add in the right outside touches.

It helps that the trio has a unique pedigree. The original trio came together for a one-off gig in a Winnipeg guitar shop, but found the blend of their musical backgrounds and voices was worth pursuing. The women, Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Annabelle Chvostek (replacing original member Cara Luft), draw on diverse backgrounds in traditional folk music, classical music, opera, cabaret and pop music.

Which is a great foundation. Now, add in impressive songwriting chops and you have the makings for a great album. The trio wrote 12 of the 13 songs on Firecracker, but you would swear that you know them all. They have a timeless quality to them -- the songs could have been written last week, or at any point in the last two centuries.

Individually, a number of the tracks stand out. Moody's "Glory Bound" features gorgeous lead vocals by the songwriter, and the simple chorus of "Hallelujah" contains as much spirit as a lot of modern-day Christian acts. "Starlight" -- one of Mehta's tunes -- is a piece of moody folk rock, with a slightly off-kilter approach that matches the dark lyrics: "There are no vultures in this clearing, / Except the ones who brought me here, / And I'll no longer feed them, / Take me home."

That is followed immediately by the gorgeous-sounding "Apocalypse Lullaby", which is as much about the hope that still exists in the world as all of the disasters of recent years. On "Long Time Traveler", the one song not penned by a member of the trio, they showcase their amazing vocal chops and ability to harmonize on an a cappella version of the song. Meanwhile, "Things That You Know" adds a rock vibe to the proceedings -- capturing the vibe of acts like the Jayhawks much more than the Dixie Chicks (who used Gary Louris of the Jayhawks to pen a number of songs on their latest, Taking the Long Way).

I've been avoiding Dixie Chicks comparisons, because I don't like to push one act by putting down another. Yet it's hard to ignore the similarities between the acts. For my money, the Wailin' Jennys do what the Dixie Chicks have always promised, but rarely delivered. But it's not good to dwell on the negative. Despite its sometimes dark nature, Firecracker affirms that there are few things as beautiful as the bare human voice, except for a chorus of voices singing in harmony. Add in quality tunes and compelling lyrics, and you have an album perfect for nearly any mood.






Rodd Rathjen Talks About His Film of Modern Slavery, 'Buoyancy'

Rodd Rathjen's directorial feature debut, Buoyancy, seeks to give a voice to the voiceless men and boys who are victims of slavery in Southeast Asia.


Hear the New, Classic Pop of the Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" (premiere)

The Parson Red Heads' "Turn Around" is a pop tune, but pop as heard through ears more attuned to AM radio's glory days rather than streaming playlists and studio trickery.


Blitzen Trapper on the Afterlife, Schizophrenia, Civil Unrest and Our Place in the Cosmos

Influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, Blitzen Trapper's new album Holy Smokes, Future Jokes plumbs the comedic horror of the human condition.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Fire in the Time of Coronavirus

If we venture out our front door we might inhale both a deadly virus and pinpoint flakes of ash. If we turn back in fear we may no longer have a door behind us.


Sufjan Stevens' 'The Ascension' Is Mostly Captivating

Even though Sufjan Stevens' The Ascension is sometimes too formulaic or trivial to linger, it's still a very good, enjoyable effort.

Jordan Blum

Chris Smither's "What I Do" Is an Honest Response to Old Questions (premiere + interview)

How does Chris Smither play guitar that way? What impact does New Orleans have on his music? He might not be able to answer those questions directly but he can sure write a song about it.


Sally Anne Morgan Invites Us Into a Metaphorical Safe Space on 'Thread'

With Thread, Sally Anne Morgan shows that traditional folk music is not to be smothered in revivalist praise. It's simply there as a seed with which to plant new gardens.


Godcaster Make the Psych/Funk/Hard Rock Debut of the Year

Godcaster's Long Haired Locusts is a swirling, sloppy mess of guitars, drums, flutes, synths, and apparently whatever else the band had on hand in their Philly basement. It's a highly entertaining and listenable album.


The Dance of Male Forms in Denis' 'Beau travail'

Claire Denis' masterwork of cinematic poetry, Beau travail, is a cinematic ballet that tracks through tone and style the sublimation of violent masculine complexes into the silent convulsions of male angst.


The Cradle's 'Laughing in My Sleep' Is an Off-kilter Reflection of Musical Curiosity

The Cradle's Paco Cathcart has curated a thoughtfully multifarious album. Laughing in My Sleep is an impressive collection of 21 tracks, each unapologetic in their rejection of expectations.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Tobin Sprout Goes Americana on 'Empty Horses'

During the heyday of Guided By Voices, Tobin Sprout wasn't afraid to be absurd amongst all that fuzz. Sprout's new album, Empty Horses, is not the Tobin Sprout we know.


'All In: The Fight for Democracy' Spotlights America's Current Voting Restrictions as Jim Crow 2.0

Featuring an ebullient and combative Stacey Abrams, All In: The Fight for Democracy shows just how determined anti-democratic forces are to ensure that certain groups don't get access to the voting booth.


'Transgender Street Legend Vol. 2' Finds Left at London "At My Peak and Still Rising"

"[Pandemic lockdown] has been a detriment to many people's mental health," notes Nat Puff (aka Left at London) around her incendiary, politically-charged new album, "but goddamn it if I haven't been making some bops here and there!"


Daniel Romano's 'How Ill Thy World Is Ordered' Is His Ninth LP of 2020 and It's Glorious

No, this is isn't a typo. Daniel Romano's How Ill Thy World Is Ordered is his ninth full-length release of 2020, and it's a genre-busting thrill ride.


The Masonic Travelers Offer Stirring Rendition of "Rock My Soul" (premiere)

The Last Shall Be First: the JCR Records Story, Volume 1 captures the sacred soul of Memphis in the 1970s and features a wide range of largely forgotten artists waiting to be rediscovered. Hear the Masonic Travelers "Rock My Soul".


GLVES Creates Mesmerizing Dark Folktronica on "Heal Me"

Australian First Nations singer-songwriter GLVES creates dense, deep, and darkish electropop that mesmerizes with its blend of electronics and native sounds on "Heal Me".


Otis Junior and Dr. Dundiff Tells Us "When It's Sweet" It's So Sweet

Neo-soul singer Otis Junior teams with fellow Kentuckian Dr. Dundiff and his hip-hop beats for the silky, groovy "When It's Sweet".

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.