On their new album, Fifteen, Juno Award-winning folk trio the Wailin’ Jennys apply their signature harmonies to some well-worn classics, and it’s the perfect antidote for the cold, dark season ahead.
The album is also a celebration of 15 years together as a band, and includes a sparse and thoughtful take on Tom Petty’s “Wildflowers,” a gently rocking version of Dolly Parton’s “Light of a Clear Blue Morning” and a quietly stirring rendition of the Hank Williams song “Weary Blues From Waitin’.”
It’s the band’s first new recording in six years. The trio, made up of Nicky Mehta, Ruth Moody and Heather Masse, all live in all different cities, and getting together to work on an album is a scheduling challenge.
“Nicky and Heather could only be away from their boys for a week, which gave us five days!” Moody said via press release. “So we decided to do something that was true to our live show. Arranging other people’s songs has been something we’ve enjoyed doing since the beginning, so we thought that a covers album would be fun to do, especially given the time restraints.”
Other artists covered on Fifteen include Dolly Parton, Jane Siberry and Emmylou Harris.
Below, the band members explain why they chose each song in a track-by-track guide to the album.
"This is an English traditional song, evocative and otherworldly, as traditional music often is. Waterson-Carthy did a version that is very spirited, almost like a march. We took a more gentle approach."
"We’ve been singing this Tom Petty song for a few years and a lot of fans have asked us to record it, so we finally did. It’s just a great song, and it feels really good to sing it."
"We all think this is the most beautiful song. It is deep and compassionate ... a spiritual anthem, with a touch of Jane Siberry eccentricity. Nicky brought this one to the band and suggested we trade off lead vocals. The boys dug deep in their performance. Richy [Moody] added some gorgeous string parts. It was one of those things that just came together magically."
‘Light of a Clear Blue Morning’
"We were asked to arrange this song for an independent Canadian film called The Year Dolly Parton Was My Mom, which featured Dolly’s music and received her stamp of approval. What can we say— we love Dolly, and this is a mammoth of a song, so we were honoured to do so."
‘Loves Me Like a Rock’
"Heather thought this would be fun to do with the Jennys, and she was right. We tend to gravitate towards the serious, so it’s good for us to lighten up once in a while. It’s a feel-good Paul Simon classic that feels ever appropriate."
‘Boulder to Birmingham’
"I have loved this song for as long as I’ve loved songs — it’s such a poignant and heartbreaking tribute to a lost love. The fact that Emmylou [Harris] wrote it after Gram Parson’s death makes it all the more meaningful. I’ve always wanted to try it with the Jennys but the melody really weaves around, which can be challenging for creating harmonies. I love what we ended up with. The high part in particular ventures way out of Nicky’s normal range, but she nailed it. This was another one that felt magical when it was going down — we performed it a few times, but in the end we chose the first take."
"Penned by the magnificent Patty Griffin and suggested by Heather, 'Not Alone' is a tragic rendering of a life lost suddenly and a loved one left behind. Despite the gravity of the tale, it carries with it a message of deep hope and love. The haunting strains of Richard's viola and Adam [Dobres]'s electric guitar make this song cut straight to the bone."
‘Keep Me in Your Heart’
"Warren Zevon wrote this song at the end of his life after battling cancer. It's a beautiful sentiment — a piece of himself left for his family and friends, and the rest of us! Richy, Sam [Howard] and Adam came up with a beautiful string arrangement in the studio and we think it really made the song come to life."
‘Weary Blues From Waitin’’
"This Hank Williams song was one of the first songs the three of us sang together, the night we met Heather at the World Cafe in Philadelphia. We wanted to see how our voices blended, so we ducked into a public bathroom, locked the door, and sang a few songs. I’m pretty sure we asked her to join the band right then and there."
Fifteen will be released on Oct. 27 via Red House Records. You can pre-order it here.