Koch Records, 2003
REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/03/2003
Been feeling like pulling an Elvis on your TV lately? Are the politicians, plastic popstars and screaming media hype getting you down? Meet the best antidote I know for the 21st century cynicism blues -- The Kennedys. No, not those Kennedys… but rather Reston, Virginia's Pete and Maura Kennedy, purveyors of sparkling folk-pop infused with the kind of relentless lyrical optimism that could make daffodils bloom in January.
The couple met a decade ago when Maura was an aspiring singer in Austin, Texas and Pete was touring as a member of country singer-songwriter Nanci Griffiths' band. Their first date, in which each drove 500 miles so they could meet at Buddy Holly's grave, is the stuff of indie musician legend. Since merging their musical and personal destinies, the pair have issued five studio discs (including 1996's terrific Life Is Large and 1998's gentler Angel Fire) and one live album through indie channels including Green Linnet, Rounder Records and now their own JiffyJam label.
Stand effectively weaves together the variety of musical threads to be found in the Kennedys' back catalog, whose principal touchstones are acoustic folk and Byrds-influenced jangle-pop. "From the outset, we took 'Eight Miles High' as the template for our songwriting," admits Pete, but the duo also draw on folk storytelling traditions and spice things up with production flourishes ranging from beatbox rhythms to Beatlesque psychedelia.
The opener "Dharma Café" is classic Kennedys -- upbeat, engaging and hopelessly uncool to the kind of slick, self-admiring cynics who work the phones for most major labels. Pete's guitars ring and Maura's luminous vocals soar both there and on the even bright-and-shinier "Easy People," an ode to the joys of hanging with someone you're completely in tune with.
In between comes "Stand," a slow-building folk anthem that marries unabashed idealism to chiming acoustic guitars, a track that's merely beautiful up until late in the game, when the Kennedys masterfully fuse lines from Curtis Mayfield's "People Get Ready" and the folk standard "This Train's Bound For Glory" into a musical/lyrical mantra that builds and layers and builds until the chills come, and a big grin along with them. Yeah, that's the stuff.
The remainder of the album touches on musical and lyrical themes familiar to any Kennedys fan -- world-weary wanderers ("Pilgrim"), reimagined fairy tales ("Anna And The Magic Gown"), Buddhist meditations ("Raindrop") and in-spite-of-it-all celebrations ("Dance Around In The Rain"). The essential threads remain the same throughout -- Pete's superb acoustic and electric guitar work and rich, organic production, and Maura's vocals, warm, pure and without pretension.
All that said, a confession: the Kennedys' music doesn't always grab me. My tastes typically run to music with a little more bite, something with at least a hint of irony or aggression. You won't find either here. The thing is, there are a thousand other groups out there covering that territory, and precious few dreamers with the courage and integrity to stand by their ideals.
In other words, it seems to me that the world needs music like the Kennedys' -- and people like them, too.