It’s not much of a stretch to envision The Wailin’ Jennys as the bewitching, lullaby-oozing sirens in the Coen brothers’ “Odyssey”-inspired 2000 film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” The lush harmonies of this acoustic folk-roots trio often emanate that same sense of ethereal enchantment and universal ache.
Sacramentans have an opportunity to witness this dreamy disorientation and musical resonance firsthand when the multi-instrumental Jennys appear Friday night at the Crest Theatre.
The Wailin’ Jennys were co-founded in 2002 by solo Winnipeg singer-songwriters Ruth Moody and Nicky Mehta. The third titular member has changed over the years (Maine native Heather Masse now completes the band) as the Jennys toured internationally, frequently appeared on Garrison Keillor’s “A Prairie Home Companion” radio show, released four albums and garnered many awards.
But even with the roster changes, the band’s signature sound has remained intact.
“The thing that we are known for is our three-part harmony,” said Moody in a recent phone interview. “That’s really the thread featured on every song. If you like harmony, you’ll likely have a really good time.”
The vocals are enhanced by fluid, diverse instrumentation. “Heather plays (upright) bass,” Moody said. “Nicky plays drums and harmonica and guitar and ukulele. I play banjo, guitar and accordion. And my brother Richard, who comes on the road with us, plays fiddle and viola and mandolin. There are a lot of instruments on stage. It keeps it interesting for people.
“And we’re all singer-songwriters,” Moody said. “We all come from slightly different places in our writing.”
Soprano Moody is a classically trained vocalist and pianist who discovered that her voice better fit folk and Celtic genres. She sang in the Juno-nominated (Canadian Grammy) roots band Scruj MacDuhk, released the solo albums “The Garden” (2010) and “These Wilder Things” (2013) and toured last summer opening for former Dire Straits guitarist Mark Knopfler.
Mezzo Mehta’s solo album “Weather Vane” (2002) was nominated for a Canadian Independent Music Award, and she has fronted folk/rock, jazz, and R&B bands. The tattoo on her upper right arm is a Tsimshian orca design.
“In aboriginal mythology (orcas) connote harmony and kinship,” Mehta said in an email. “They are the singers of the cosmos and speak of the dead. In this design, the dorsal fin is an eagle delivering messages to the higher cosmos and the lower fin is a raven communicating with all below.”
Alto Masse, a New England Conservatory of Music Jazz Voice graduate, has toured with her own band and released two albums: “Bird Song” (2009) and “Lock My Heart” (2013) with jazz pianist Dick Hyman.
“Heather joined the band about seven years ago,” Moody said. “She came recommended by a friend. She came to a show to check us out. We sang in a dimly lit bathroom and within five minutes we were (like) ‘Yep. This is going to be great.’ ”
The Crest show will include a couple of songs from the band’s two pre-Masse albums “40 Days” (2004) and “Firecracker” (2006), some surprise covers, material from “Live at the Mauch Chunk Opera House” (2009) and tunes from “Bright Morning Stars” (2011) that they have not previously played live.
“We’re all very inspired by nature, love and loss,” says Moody. “Themes of hope and peace come up. Nicky’s written a couple songs that deal with darker issues and there’s a little bit of everything: lullabies, poppier songs. Heather’s got her sort of more jazz and blues influences.”
And there’s elements of gospel, bluegrass, Appalachian and country, too.
The humor inherent in the band’s name also emerges in personable stage commentaries. “I think people have come to expect our stories and banter, and it’s been fun,” Moody said. “We took a year and a half off so that Heather could have a baby. She’ll be touring with her little guy. Nicky’s a full-on mom (with young twin sons) with so many stories of her boys that are hilarious. We’re just all excited to come out in new phases of our lives and be sharing.”
Friendship among the Jennys is something that has also come with creating music together and touring.
“We’re all really close,” says Moody. “We didn’t start as friends, which is one interesting thing about the band. We started for the music. I think the thing that really keeps it together is that we all have a very strong work ethic and similar views on life. And we all want to make a positive difference. Through our writing we’re all trying to find our place in the world and make sense of it all.”