Singing Jennys Harmonizing trio will wail away in Weehawken

A soprano, mezzo, and an alto walk into a park … Sounds like the Wailin’ Jennys are in town for the final performance of this year’s Hudson Riverfront Performing Arts Center (HRPAC) summer concert series.

Ruth Moody (the soprano), Nicky Mehta (the mezzo), and Heather Masse (the alto) are the Wailin’ Jennys, and they will display their talents at Lincoln Harbor Park in Weehawken on Aug. 27 at 7 p.m.

Emerging from Canada, Moody and Mehta first began singing with Cara Luft in Winnipeg, and played well-known events such as the Winnipeg Folk Festival.

It was the organizer of their first show, which sold out, who came up with the catchy name for the singers.

Though Mehta believes they come from a folk tradition, she doesn’t define the Wailin’ Jennys as a folk trio.

“Folk is a pretty broad term,” Mehta explains, admitting she’s more of a pop person. “As an umbrella, we fit under it.”

When Luft left, they found their third Jenny in Brooklyn. In April 2007, Masse joined the trio, adding her sonorous alto to the beautiful mix of soprano and mezzo.

But there’s more to these women than their voices. Their musical aptitude extends to instruments, which complement those harmonies that have won them acclaim including a Juno Award.

Moody, 32, plays guitar, banjo, accordion, and bodhran. Mehta, 36, plays the guitar, harmonica, ukulele, and percussion. And Masse, 26, plays bass. And all three write songs.

The singing/songwriting Jennys spend their rare time off at home with friends and family, but when they tour, their vocals unite to create a sound that a British daily paper called “quiet, warm, subtle, mellifluous, almost too good to be true.”

Three voices at one with each other

With their voices as their primary instruments, Mehta believes their sound is very natural. Such a heavy focus on singing might become daunting for some, but not for the Jennys.

“We’ve all been singing since we were very young, and I think that the human voice is one of the most natural instruments around, especially in harmony,” says Mehta. “It’s hugely gratifying to be able to sing and create music that way.”

Mehta says that she always sang in harmony, even when she was a child and didn’t realize what she was doing. Her voice has always been her primary instrument.

“I don’t even remember not singing,” she says. “When I was a kid, I loved singing along to records.”

While she hasn’t had any significant formal training, Mehta says, “I took a couple of singing lessons and never stuck with it because I never thought I would be doing this for a living.”

Singing for a living, especially with the emphasis on harmony, might seem like it would be a strain to the vocal chords, but Mehta insists that’s not the case.

“Your voice becomes stronger the more you use it,” she says. “Being on the road, the thing that affects your vocals most is lack of sleep. That’s the worst thing you can do to your voice. And then things like smoke and alcohol. [We] keep that to a minimum. Thankfully most of the places we perform are non-smoking now. We were just in Amsterdam and that was a bit of shock to the system, because the room we were playing in, everybody was smoking – that’s tricky, but that almost never happens.”

One might think that singing in unison would prevent their individual voices from standing out, but Mehta explains that they don’t want listeners to wonder who is singing what part. They harmonize so their voices sound like one.

“We’re very conscious of making it sound seamless,” says Mehta. “We want things to blend. There’s enough opportunity for people to sing solo and sing leads.”

She adds, “People enjoy that our vocals and our personalities are very different and we manage to combine them in a complementary whole.”

Those personalities range from perceptions they’ve gleaned from their guestbook and audience feedback of Masse as “sweet and smiley,” Moody as “the girl next door,” and Mehta the one with the dry comical banter. Mehta says her onstage presence is closer to her true personality than the darker subjects she writes about.

“Our music is [sometimes] very different from who we are,” explains Mehta. “The songs deal with very heavy issues – I write a lot about death … So I think there’s a gravity to what I write. It can be at times a little heavy.”

Around the world

Mehta finds the audience’s response to harmony interesting, especially since they have worldwide experience, including their homeland in Canada, the U.S., Britain, Europe, and Australia.

“It’s interesting,” she says. “What we find is that audiences in Europe typically tend to be more reserved. They’re listeners. I think there’s a history in Europe in general of great reverence toward the art. In the States, the audiences are really boisterous and vocal and very engaged. I think there’s more of a willingness to be vocal and shout out things and cheer – and that’s really energizing. We enjoy that. And Canada’s kind of in between.”

Mehta is eager to see what reception they get in the Garden State.

“I’m hearing lots of really good things as we get closer to it,” she says. “We’re looking forward to it.”

Here in the U.S., their voices have often been heard on Garrison Keillor’s National Public Radio show, “A Prairie Home Companion.”

The Jennys have the 2006 album Firecracker and 2004’s 40 Days under their belt as well as an EP, and as their HRPAC appearance approaches, they are planning their next recording.

For more information, visit: For more information about the concert, call (201) 716-4540 or visit

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