As is often the case with our ‘Introducing…’ posts, rather than being a new up & coming act The Kennedy’s are a hugely experienced duo with a distinguished career to date, it is simply that NCUK has some serious catching up to do. In fact, 2015 sees Pete & Maura Kennedy celebrating a musical partnership of twenty years (in addition to a marriage spanning those decades). The tale of how the two came together makes for rewarding reading, meeting in Austin, Texas during the early 1990’s when Pete was a member of Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra. Maura was in town fronting her band the Delta Rays. A jam session between the two sparked a musical chemistry that the pair could not ignore and following Pete having to leave Austin for a show in Telluride the following day, he called Maura and they agreed to meet at an equidistant point. That happened to be Lubbock, Texas where the pair sang ‘Not Fade Away’ together, fittingly so as the town was the home of Buddy Holly. As they say, the rest is history.
To celebrate their twentieth anniversary The Kennedys are releasing three albums of new material this year. Coming later in 2015 ‘Heart Of Gotham’ will be a solo offering from Pete, whilst ‘Villanelle: The Songs Of Maura Kennedy and B.D. Love’ will feature Maura on her own. However, first up will be ‘West’ a thirteen-track album featuring the duo in their full glory. Released in the UK last week (slightly later on 14th April in the US) the record is a wonderful introduction to the Americana/Roots music of the now New York-based duo for the uninitiated such as myself.
‘West’ is a musical journey around a number of styles, albeit closely-linked and wonderfully complimenting each other, all of which are performed with magnificent harmonies and effortless grace. The title track with its tale of hitting the road and deep guitar riff is a superb slice of laidback Americana, whilst ‘Jubilee Time’ is perhaps the most Country sounding cut, a tender & deceptively uplifting shuffle featuring sympathetic lead vocals from Pete. The lion’s share of lead vocal duties are taken by Maura and her charming delivery shines on ‘Locket’ an incredibly sweet love song with echoes of the aforementioned Buddy Holly and his unique Pop/Country/Rock & Roll-blend.
‘Black, Snake, White Snake’ is a far edgier effort with a swampy 70’s rock feel, tense percussion and swirling harmonies. If gospel-tinged bluegrass is your bag then The Kennedys have you covered with ‘Bodhisattva Blues’, a spritely acoustic workout boasting top drawer picking. The blues are in evidence again on ‘Travel Day Blues’, despite its’ downbeat title the song is a thrilling boogie-woogie infused number, strong electric guitar and the pair sharing lead vocals make this a winner. Album closer ‘Good, Better, Best’ touches on the folk roots from Pete’s time working with Nanci Griffith, a beautiful love song celebrating the duo’s twenty year relationship.
Stand-out tracks on the album are – ‘The Queen Of Hollywood High’, the sole outside composition (dating back to the early 1980’s from singer-songwriter John Stewart) and a delightful mid-tempo Alt-Country song, featuring full-blooded production & an intense vocal from Maura; ‘Sisters Of The Road’ an irresistible driving song benefiting hugely from vibrant guitars & large-scale backing vocals.
The Kennedys are frequent visitors to the UK and are heading back to our shores to support the release of ‘West’ and share their twentieth anniversary celebrations. Starting in Glasgow on 30th April the duo travel from Basingstoke to Exeter to London and more in between, before finishing up in Cumbria on 10th May (full listings here). For those of you unfamiliar with Pete & Maura Kennedy their terrific new album ‘West’ provides the perfect opportunity to correct that oversight and get yourself ready for one of the duo’s upcoming UK shows.
(Photos by Kim Nicholais / Album Cover by Maura Kennedy)