Category: Good Lovelies

Canadian Girl Groups:
The Be Good Tanyas, The Wailin’ Jennys, and The Good Lovelies

September 22nd, 2010 — 10:20 pm

I have a thing for sweet harmony of any type, but not all harmonies are created equal – or should be. And though there are many factors which can affect how voices blend – from range to accent, from tone to purity of voice – gender pairing has much to do with the fundamental possibilities which can emerge from singing together.

More often than not, strong male/female duos and mixed-gender groups produce a study in contrast, leaning heavily on the contrast between their vocal range and tone – see the newest work from Isobel Campbel and Mark Lanegan, or go way back to Gram Parsons and Emmylou Harris, to hear what I mean, or look at the delicate intertwined harmonies of Gillian Welch and high tenor David Rawlings as a counterexample. Similarly, it takes few examples to explore male groupings: unless we’re talking about sibling and siblingesque groups like The Everly Brothers or The Beach Boys, from CSNY and The Eagles to Simon and Garfunkel and The Brilliant Inventions, the goal here is to meld disparity into beauty, and when it works, it really works.

Female singers, on the other hand, generally produce a tighter sort of sound. The American trio Red Molly, for example, who we’ve featured often on these pages, come across with beautiful chords; meanwhile, duos such as the Watson Twins or First Aid Kit soar together up and down their respective approaches to melodic folkpop.

But despite its relatively sparse population, I find that a number of my favorite all-girl folk groups come from Canada, a.k.a. America’s Hat. Maybe there’s something in the water; maybe there’s something about those long winter nights far from the equator that brings the ladies together for practice to make perfect. Regardless: we’ve featured duo Dala plenty in the past few months, thanks to their appearance at this summer’s Falcon Ridge Folk Festival, but here’s a triplet of strong tripartite partnerships from North of the border which have been tickling my fancy lately.

I discovered Juno-award winning trio The Good Lovelies quite recently, through their appearance on fellow Canadian girlgroup Dala’s live 2010 tour-de-force Girls From The North Country; seeking them out via the usual channels revealed a charming but small collection of CDs chock full of delight, and I’d recommend any and all to anyone. Their acoustic-driven songs have a retro girl group flavor in places, tending towards the smiling sweetness of the Andrews Sisters, while other tracks echo the forthright heart and heartiness of the Dixie Chicks at their best, but even beyond their penchant for bells and guitar-based instrumentation, there’s something eminently down-to-earth and delicate about them that rings folk to me.

The Be Good Tanyas have been on my radar since their inception, thanks to local radio station WRSI, which played their debut Blue Horse to death when it first hit the scene in 2000. Two albums later, with nothing new on the shelves since 2006, member Franzey Ford has just emerged with a strong debut solo disc, while long-gone founding trio member Jolie Holland continues to tour to support her own haunting catalog … but hiatus or not, the three sparse, old-timey, blues-and-americana-tinged albums the Vancouver trio produced so far remain high on my eternal playlist, and for good reason.

Longstanding folk mainstays The Wailin’ Jennys hail from “Canada’s heartland”, and it shows: theirs are campfire harmonies, rich and fluid, sweet but with a hint of breath and smoke that are well worth celebrating. Their newest release, 2009′s Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House, is a stunning collection, with strong covers and originals from a trio already long overdue for prominent placement in the pantheon of great modern folk acts after just a handful of albums. I’ve posted their gentle, gorgeous cover of Neil Young’s Barefoot Floors several times, most recently atop our recent Covered In Kidfolk feature on lullabies, but any chance to prove that they’re not just a one-trick pony is welcome, indeed.

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