The Kennedys,
(Rounder, 2000)

The Kennedys simultaneously break new ground for themselves and return to their first loves on this unusual recording. Featuring all new material that sports throw-back sounds to '60s, '70s, and early '80s pop, this is a gem of a find for anyone who's a fan of true pop music. From Beach Boys-like harmonies to Beatlesesque guitar sounds, this percussion-driven music will sound like something you might have heard on any pop radio station in the mid-'70s, except it has that distinctive stamp that only Pete and Maura Kennedy can give it.

Recorded almost exclusively in hotel rooms during their extensive touring, the music has the fresh edge of music written and recorded as it is going through the birth process. It's this very freshness that makes this recording work, and it's the variety of sounds and styles represented that keeps it working to the very end. Much of the music features layer upon layer of sound, giving it a texture and depth that was seldom heard on most of the '60s pop it imitates.

Take, for example, "The Girl with the Blonde Eye," where Jethro Tull meets a James Bond soundtrack for a kicky, upbeat tune. Rico Petrocelli guests here with a fabulous flute line that is very reminiscent of Ian Anderson's style. The wordless vocals give just the right inane edge to make you believe you must be watching a spy thriller opening shot, and the guitar solo at the end provides the exact exit one would expect from such a track.

Sounding much like something from the early Beatles repertoire, "Keep the Place Clean" has an edgy sound with Pete on the melody and Maura on an unusual harmony part. The upbeat sound, odd harmony and strange lyrics combine to make for an off-the-wall cut.

Unquestionably my favorite cut is the opener, "Pick You Up," which sounds uncannily like ABBA at the end of their career. I'd almost swear this must have been a cut they accidentally left off ABBA's last album, The Visitors, and the Kennedys somehow came across it and picked it up. A definite blast from the past.

There's a Hollies-influenced track, "Free," filled with pop-beat percussion by Vince Santoro and upbeat lyrics in Maura's uplifting voice. A very post-modern, artsy track, "Mr. Lucky Man," features the classic Kennedys' "jangly" guitars and lots of special effects that make you think you're hearing the soundtrack to a cyberpunk video. Although sporting a bit too regular a rhythm, "World Away" has a bit of a Kansas influence to it, especially in the ethereal synthesizer solo in the middle.

The one track that isn't new material is a Gene Clark song from 1965, "Here Without You." Sounding a bit like the Mamas and the Papas, with a little ABBA thrown in for kicks and grins, this track could easily have been lifted from the mid-'60s, but has just the right edge to fit in with all the new material in this collection.

There are a few wonderful instrumental additions to the mixes, giving this pop a very modern edge. When, in the '70s, would anyone have added hammered dulcimer (Jody Marshall) to a pop song? Despite the female vocals, "If I Weep" sounds like it could have come off ELO's mid-'70s LP Time. My favorite addition is the "log harp" Pete plays on the uncharacteristically dark cut, "Down, Down, Down." Sounding much like a thumb piano, the hollow percussive tones sound like rhythmic raindrops surrounding Maura's resigned vocals. There's a bit of a digeridoo-like effect on this one as well.

The Kennedys display their sense of humor throughout, with little jabs at various styles, all done with a sense of respect tucked in. "Good Morning Groovy," for example, plays like an energetic Japanese band imitating American pop from the '70s. The lyrics, the words, everything is just right for the society that brought us Anime but loves American culture. Then there's "Strangers," with lyrics about "strangers in the sky," and "believe we're the only ones?" which was recorded in their Roswell, NM, hotel room. Don't miss the hidden track after this last cut, with a few sound effects like the alien ship lifting off, perhaps with the Kennedys along for the ride.

[ by Jo Morrison ]

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