Click here to e-mail reviewer
Quirky is a prime adjective to describe the Kennedys. Maura and Pete Kennedy bypassed the pop music star-making machinery for a more convoluted and personal growth path. They first met in Austin, TX, in 1992, married in 1994, and released their first album, River of Falling Stars, in 1995. During this time they toured with Nancy Griffith, both in her band, where Pete played lead guitar and Maura handled back-up vocals, plus as her opening act.
In 1996 the Kennedys released their best-known album, Life is Large. Pete assembled a portable studio so they could record the likes of Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle, The Dixie Hummingbirds, Nils Lofgren, Kelly Willis, Peter Hopsapple, John Gorka, and Jimmy LaFave for cameo and accompanying tracks. 1998 saw the release of their third album Angel Fire on Philo, followed by Evolver in 2000 on Rounder, and Get It Right on JiffyJam in 2001. Koch released Stand in 2003, and Half a Million Miles came out on Appleseed in 2005.That brings us up to Songs of the Open Road.
In the past the Kennedys have often included a cover or two, but Songs of the Open Road is their first album exclusively of covers. You learn a lot about a performer by their choice of cover material, and on Songs of the Open Road the Kennedys supply a complete syllabus of their major musical influences. Beginning with Victoria William's "This Moment" through the final strains of Nanci Griffith's "Last Night Grande Hotel" the Kennedys apply their jangly brand of roots-pop to a veritable pantheon of important American songwriters. Gene Clark's "Eight Miles High joins Dylan's "A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall," Stephan Still's "Pretty Girl Why," Nick Lowe's "Raging Eyes," Jimmy Webb's "Galveston," Gram Parson's "Sin City," Gene Clark's "Gypsy Eyes," John Stewart's "Jasmine," Dave Carter's "Gypsy Rose" and "Happytown," making a rollicking good time almost inevitable. Maura's lead vocals ride over a dense mix that combines Pete's electric 12-string guitar with an acoustic 6-string, mini-electric, sitar, ukulele, banjo, organ, glockenspiel, drums, and bass. Yes, this really is a two-person band with the exception of Radoslav Lorkovic playing accordion on one cut.
Sonics veer intentionally toward the pop jangly side. Think Byrds meets Phil Spector's wall of sound. Pete Kennedy favors multiple layers of guitars, combining acoustics with electrics. The final effect is a guitarish bed that the vocals breathe on top of. Maura's voice is sometimes EQ'd to give it a slightly electronic edge, but on other songs, such as "A Hard Rain is Gonna Fall" she sounds totally natural. If you choose the wrong cut to demo for your audiophile friends, such "This Moment" expect some raised eyebrows.
The Kennedy's music has an infectious bounce guaranteed to elevate your mood and banish all but the blackest depressive haze. Songs of the Open Road is way cheaper than a prescription of Valium and just as effective. I'll take two, please.