I'm always excited when I get a new CD to listen to, especially if I'm going to review it. I put it in, turn it up, and wait for my very first reaction. In this case, it was, "Holy crap, is this good!" Harmonies like these, wrapped around an acoustic stream of stringed instruments, quickly reduce me shivers, tears, and puddles. Even after listening to this numerous times in order to write this review, I can't get the damn thing out of my car stereo. It still kills me every time.
Firecracker is the second CD by the Jennys, but it's the first since Annabelle Chvostek came into the group following the departure of an original member. With Nicky Mehta and Ruth Moody, this trio has found a synchronicity that I don't think I have ever experienced. This gem blends a tasty mix of country, folk, gospel, and bluegrass into one fine collection of songs. The Jennys have written 12 of the 13 songs on this CD, each member contributing four tunes with a spine-tingling interpretation of a traditional tune thrown in.
The voices come like nectar from these songs, with simple yet powerful, poetic lyrics. The melodies are a gentle and unpredictable rollercoaster that I want to ride again and again. The musicianship is stellar, presenting a delicious recipe of mandolin, violin, electric guitar, banjo, dobro, trumpet, and bass, all mixed in various portions across the project. But it's the voices, I say, the voices.
The songs range from mournful ballads to romping country tunes. My favorites fall somewhere in the middle of this range, although they're all pretty darn good. Glory Bound turns a banjo into a soulful instrument when placed next to the harmonic hallelujahs in this song. Swallow lifts these ladies cheerfully upward upon fluffy clouds of trumpet while perfectly evoking the image of a swallow swooping across the water.
Three of these numbers have a country rock feel, and the Jennys deliver this style better than most. Each one has a terrific, catchy chorus with each song building in strength from start to finish. Things That You Know reminds us that there is always "peace somewhere around the bend." This Heart of Mine and Some Good Thing lament, in a rather upbeat manner, about love, the latter starting out, "Think of this heart as an old accident."
The unbelievable voices shine on the a cappella Long Time Traveller, the one traditional tune here. In some ways, this is the most compelling track with its ethereal and orchestral harmonies melting the listener. I really can't believe how good these ladies sound together. Really.
Prairie Town highlights Ruth's soprano vividly. She sings with so much confidence and the beauty of her voice is improved by the conversational style of her delivery.
Apocalypse Lullaby and Begin and Avila are soulful ballads with graceful lyrics and lilting melodies. The first contains the amazing phrase, "tetrahedron blue," and Begin, much to my surprise, is about starting over, not about the former Israeli Prime Minister as you might suspect.
Upbeat bluegrass is represented here with the opening track, The Devil's Paintbrush Road, and the mandolin-driven title track, Firecracker. These are both outstanding examples of a contemporary bluegrass sound built around a singer/songwriter mentality.
The attitude of this trio is nicely summed up in "Some Good Thing" when they sing "Come on baby let's go ahead and live." They are definitely taking their own advice.
Well, I hope I made it clear that I love this CD. In case I haven't, let me just say that it's the best CD of the year; at least in my own little universe.
Great job, Jennys! Come back to Madison!
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