An accomplished and gifted singer and songwriter whose lyrics capture the soul and essence of real life experiences, Jenny Whiteley makes you believe she has decades of anecdotes to draw from.
Jenny’s fans have been following her career for many years. From her days as the singer/bass player with the Toronto upstart bluegrass band Heartbreak Hill (who garnered a Juno nomination for their only recording “Heartbreak Hill”, in 1998) to the release of “Jenny Whiteley” which won her the Best Roots/Traditional – Solo Juno in 2000, and the touring that followed that release through the States and Canada. Jenny is well known as a ballad writer, John Tyrone, Gloria and Lonnie being some of her most recognized characters. She is also known for stepping outside the confines of the traditional content of a bluegrass song, covering topics from stalkers to hermit-lady farmers and face-down-on-the-floor drunks on her first album.
“I know most people wouldn’t know my personal songs from the made-up variety, but it was scary for me to include biographical work on an album. I am so excited with the results! They say you should write what you know, but I feel the opposite. I think you should write fiction, until you really find your voice, and only then write about yourself. Unless you have some great stories featuring you as the lead character, it often comes off as a diary entry or grocery list. But I feel really good about the songs on Hopetown.” And she should. Hopetown, the new CD from bluegrass and folk darling, Jenny Whiteley, is full of the kind of songs that draw you into the story, leave you humming the melody all day and thinking about the characters and lyrics for weeks.
For Hopetown, Jenny called on the talents of old friends and her very musical family. Appearances on the album make up a who’s who of the Canadian roots music scene, including her brother Dan Whiteley on mandolin, and her dad Chris Whiteley on the pedal steel. Rounding out the stellar lineup are Joey Wright on guitar, Chris Coole on the clawhammer banjo, Chris Gestrin on various keyboards and Juno award winner Steve Dawson on guitars.
Steve Dawson and Jenny had been talking about working together for years, ever since Zubot and Dawson and Heartbreak Hill shared some festival stages together in 1999. Steve signed on to produce the recording, and due to the arrival of Jenny’s first baby, it was decided that the sessions should begin at Jenny’s parent's house to allow the songs to take shape and lay down vocals in a comfortable surrounding. After those sessions, the rest of the album was finished in studios (and one hotel room) in Ontario and BC. The result is a project that is different from her first record, one which moves away into new sonic territory, while acknowledging Jenny's roots in bluegrass and country.
From the Bluegrass tribute to serial monogamy Needle in a Haystack, to the you-gambled-on-love-and-lost Spin It Round and the beautiful heartbreaker Burning Of Atlanta, it is easy to see that Jenny has been through some changes in the years since her solo cd “Jenny Whiteley” took the Canadian acoustic scene by storm in 2000.
In fact, Jenny has relocated to north of Kingston from Toronto, and has a daughter now. The title Hopetown comes from a nearby village: “We were driving home from doing a music program at a camp for developmentally challenged adults, which had been a fantastic experience, and we missed our turn and ended up in Hopetown. The name on the road sign just jumped out at me. A few years ago, I would have used it sarcastically, that was just my sense of humour, but now I really feel uplifted by the title. It reflects my life more than the work in some ways…don’t worry, there are still lots of broken hearts and murder and even a prison song on the new disc, for all of my fans out there!”
Her peers have recently recognized Jenny’s incredible voice. Prairie Oyster invited Jenny to sing on their re-released Man In The Moon, and that is Jenny singing background vocals on Sarah Harmer’s hit song Basement Apartment. She has also been awarded showcase opportunities at CMJ in New York City, at the exclusive North American Folk Alliance, South By Southwest, in Austin, Texas, The Midpoint Music Fest in Cincinatti, Ohio, the Ontario Council of Folk Festivals and at Pacific Contact.
Hopetown is a collection of songs that may seem more traditional in content at first glance: lost love, prison misery, a “where’s he at?” lament. Dig a little deeper, however, and you’ll hear that The Halls Of Folsom is about not wanting to leave prison, and that No Reason Blues is about anxiety and the need to worry about something. There are some great country songs here too…I Never Knew (written with Hearbreak Hill’s Chris Quinn and Dottie Cormier) and I Know How To Say Goodbye (co-written with Colin Linden) tug at the heartstrings, while more the ethereal Circus is In Town and the evocative Hallelujah Haircut (a co-write with Fred Eaglesmith) take the album down some winding dirt roads and into an eccentric small town of the mind. Just when you think your ride is over, the haunting and beautiful a Capella Day to Day rounds out the album, leaving the taste of love and honey in your mouth, as the claw hammer banjo echoes through the hills.
Hopetown is a an elegant and beautiful musical statement for Jenny, and one that will help to make her mark on the Canadian music scene.