“Jeni & Billy’s Longing For Heaven plopping on my doormat this morning has given me more joy than I can express, and if I seem hyperbolic it’s because That’s What They Do To You . . . The original tracks, such as the deliriously catchy ‘If I Ever Get Ten Dollars’ and ‘While I Stay At Home And Weep’ (replete with my new favourite word “prayhaps”) blend effortlessly with the traditional numbers (their arrangement of the hymn Longing For Heaven is just gorgeous), feeling like old favourites within about one listen. This pair does what nostalgia fetishists try and fail at doing and they manage effortlessly simply because they are the real deal.”
— Hazel Davis, Folkingcool.co.uk and Maverick Magazine
Recorded in the dead of winter at a borrowed cabin in the Carolina mountains, Longing for Heaven has that Jeni & Billy sound through and through — sparse, emotional, and sincere Appalachian Folk. Like the small cabin where they recorded it, the record has an intimate feel, and their songs ask intimate questions about that most intimate of places — home. Home on Earth and home in Heaven.
Shad Cobb guests on fiddle while the duo handle the other instruments including guitar, banjo, mandolin, harmonica, and acoustic bass guitar. Like their Jewell Ridge Coal, Longing for Heaven features live vocals and instruments recorded in complete takes with minimal overdubs to capture that “sitting in the living room at home” feel. Nicole Levitz (Feminist Review) writes, “They sound so natural together, it feels calming and clear. It’s as if you were there sitting on a back porch in old-timey South and they were right there with you and just stumbled upon some instruments.”
This ten-track CD includes four traditional songs: one from the Sacred Harp tradition and the others learned at fiddler’s conventions and from Dr. Ralph Stanley and Dry Branch Fire Squad records. The traditional song “Fond Affection” is recreated with additional lyrics and a new melody with a sad and delicate banjo lead. The other five songs are originals.
Southern writer Lee Smith, says she needs a mountain to rest her eyes against. An homage to Smith’s novels, “The Ballad of Sally Kincaid” asks the age-old question of whether you can go home again and what a woman will bear to be near “the mountain she loved best.”
“Father Will You Meet Me in Heaven” tells the true life story of Jack Cash, Johnny’s brother, who brought his father to Jesus while he lay dying of a saw-blade wound.
Written in the style of the old Carter Family songs, “While I Stay at Home and Weep” takes the age-old story of a woman waiting for her ramblin’ lover and stands it on its head.
In “If I Ever Get Ten Dollars” the railroad hobo lays out all his plans to “quit this railway car” and settle down — if he can just find the dough to buy a suit, a ring, and some land.
Jeni & Billy met UMWA President, Cecil Roberts, at the unveiling of a miner’s memorial in Cumberland, KY, after which he invited them to play at his 2010 inauguration. Struck by Roberts’ fiery speeches and his devotion to Martin Luther King, Jr and Jesus, Jeni & Billy wrote “Cecil Roberts’ Hand” in his honor.
Jeni Hankins is a native of Southwest Virginia, a coal miner’s granddaughter, and learned to sing in the mountain way from Virginia Lowe, the blind music minister of the Friendly Chapel Church. Billy Kemp is a native of Baltimore and fell in love with the sounds of Country and Appalachian music while making friends in the mill community of Oella, home to Appalachian folks who came to the city looking for work when the mines shut down.
Jeni & Billy are a international touring act who are on the road ten months of the year in the USA, UK, Ireland, and Canada. Their 2008 release Jewell Ridge Coal was #5 on the Folk and Bluegrass DJ Chart.