The last time the Wailin' Jennys played an album release gig, they had about 310 people at the West End Cultural Centre. The place was packed. That album, 40 Days, went on to win a Juno and the Jennys went on to much greater exposure, particularly as regulars on Garrison Keillor's A Prarie Home Companion US radio show. It's interesting to note when they end up on the show, they end up being in the top 5 best-selling artists on Amazon.com. At one point, the Dixie Chicks were ranked #1, the Jenny's #2 and Johnny Cash #3.
Their last Winnipeg concert proper, as far as I can recall, was a gig at the Prairie Theatre Centre in front of a couple of hundred fans last year. This time they sold around 850 tickets - quite an increase. They did play the Winnipeg Folk Festival this past summer, but that is technically an out of town gig in Bird Hill Provincial Park.
They began the show with one of the most immediately appealing tracks from the new album, Devil's Paintbrush Road, written by Annabelle Chvostek. It's upbeat and has a driving, old-time sound. I recognized everything they played, save for one unrecorded track. Throughout the set, they would talk about the inspiration behind the songs. Some songs are sentimental in nature while others have a darker inspiration. They played one song about an Aboriginal man who, as the custom was, was driven to the edge of town in winter and left to "sober up." He froze to death.
All three members of the Wailin' Jennys are accomplished songwriters, each with their own unique strengths. Ruth Moody's "Prairie Town," a ballad about her hometown of Winnipeg, won the crowd over. Nicky Mehta's "Begin" knocked my socks off the first time I heard it on album, and live it was equally stunning with it's poignant, bittersweet style and that oh, so beautiful chorus that only comes in at the end. This is the type of song that she is known for - hypnotically alluring, dark but hopeful. Annabelle's "Apocalypse Lullaby" was also a demonstration of her songwriting prowess. This oddly titled song is haunting, surreal and incredibly sublime. I give her top marks for including the word "tetrahedron" in the song. It's one of my favorite songs right now.