Saturday Single No. 10

Originally posted April 21, 2007

Well, what a nice evening we had: dinner out and a concert, something we don’t do all that often.

We spent an hour at one of our favorite St. Cloud eateries – the Mexican Village downtown. The Texas Gal had chicken quesadillas and a piña colada without rum; I had a burrito (custom-made with corn, not flour tortillas) and a large draught of Dos Equis Amber. The food, as almost always at the Mexican Village, was very good.

I’ve always liked the Mexican Village. It opened in about 1979, shortly after I left St. Cloud, but I got there on occasion during my years living away. There’s been a restaurant on that location for as long as I can remember. Before the Village, that site was the location of the OK Café, the only place in St. Cloud when I was growing up where one could get Chinese food. Well, American versions of Chinese food, for the most part; authenticity was not a major issue for adventurous diners in the 1960s and 1970s, and in St. Cloud, the OK Café was about as adventurous as it got. A place like the Mexican Village or any of the ten or so restaurants that serve fairly authentic Chinese food would have been hard to sell in those years. And something like the Sawat Dee, which serves Thai food just a few blocks from the Mexican Village, would have been unthinkable!

Anyway, after a fine dinner – and a good beer; I like Dos Equis Amber pretty well, although I am leaning these days toward porters and pale ales – we headed down St. Germain, St. Cloud’s main street, to the Paramout Theater and the Wailin’ Jennys.

The Jennys originally came from Winnipeg, Manitoba, on Canada’s prairie, and two of the original three singers – soprano Ruth Moody and mezzo Nicky Mehta – are still with the group. Heather Masse, an alto, is on her first tour with the group; she is the third singer to fill that third spot since the Jennys formed in 2002. (Masse noted while introducing one of the songs that during a recent show, Moody introduced her as being from New York City. To generous laughter, Masse said she made it clear afterwards that she is not from New York City but rather from Brooklyn.)

It was a marvelous show, with the Jennys – augmented by the addition of fiddler Jeremy Penner, who also played mandolin on a few songs – running through a repertoire of folk, gospel, blues and countryish tunes presented with some of the best three-part harmonies I’ve ever heard. From the opening song – Leadbelly’s “Bring Me L’il Water, Sylvi” sung a capella – to the closing “The Parting Glass,” a traditional Irish tune that the Jennys sang without microphones from the lip of the stage, it was wonderful.

Not only were the vocals extraordinarily good, but the Jennys’ instrumental musicianship was exquisite: Moody played guitar, banjo, accordion and on one tune, the Irish drum called the bodhran. Mehta played guitar, ukulele (yes, and it worked!), harmonica and blues harp and a brushed snare drum. Masse played string bass, which Moody noted before one song that she’s only played for a very short time. The same was true, Moody said of Penner on the mandolin. If that’s the case (and I have no reason to doubt), Masse and Penner are very quick studies.

The group did two sets of about forty-five minutes each, drawing from their two full-length CDs – The Wailin’ Jennys from 2004 and Firecracker from 2006, as well as from a 2003 EP titled The Wailin’ Jennys. Minnesota audiences are notoriously generous with their standing ovations, but the Jennys earned theirs last night, and the full house at the Paramount was happy to provide it.

And after a Friday evening like that, what else could I present here but something by the Wailin’ Jennys? So here’s “Begin” from their 2006 CD Firecracker, today’s Saturday Single.

The Wailin’ Jennys – “Begin” [2006]

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