Review By Steven Stone
Maura and Pete Kennedy's latest release continues a musical and marital collaboration that combines frothy pop exuberance with rootsy instrumental textures. Their last release, Songs of the Open Road, celebrated the work of other songwriters. Better Dreams is their first release in seven years to feature exclusively original material. Inspired by a seminar on using dreams to unlock creativity, the Kennedys found "We were writing really interesting songs in and around the workshop sessions.” All the songs on Better Dreams have something to do with dreamtime.
The Kennedys met in 1992 while Pete was playing a solo gig during a sabbatical from his principal gig as Nancy Griffith's lead guitarist. Maura caught his show during a night off from touring with her band, The Delta Rays. They wrote their first song together the next day. Soon Maura joined Nancy Griffith's band as a harmony singer (replacing Iris Dement), and the Kennedys began doing an opening set for Griffith's live shows. During that tour, the Kennedys wrote the songs for their first album River of Fallen Stars, which was released in 1995. Since then they have released ten CDs, including side projects such as their Strangelings and Stringbusters releases.
On Better Dreams Maura handles all the lead vocals and rhythm guitar while Pete contributes backing vocals, electric guitar parts, keyboard, bass and drums, Their two-person band is augmented by Strangeling bandmates Chris Thompson, Rebecca Hall, Ken Anderson, Eric Lee, and Cheryl Prashker. The Kennedy's arrangement style puts Maura's shimmering voice up front and then builds a wall of sound behind her that reminds me of Phil Ramone meets the Byrds. Often a Rickenbacker 12 string guitar intertwines with a Fender VI bass guitar during instrumental interludes. Pete Kennedy also isn't averse to exploiting the "metal string band” sound of a piezo pick-up acoustic guitar for his rhythm guitar tracks.
Folk-pop is alive and well. Better Dreams proves it.