Pete and Maura Kennedy met in Austin, Texas, in the early 1990s. Virginia-born Pete was playing lead guitar in Nanci Griffith’s Blue Moon Orchestra, while Maura was at the helm of The Delta Rays. They connected at a songwriters’ jam session and instantly felt a musical allegiance, leading to a twenty-year partnership spent on the road, writing, recording and performing together. Typifying the varying sounds and influences of Americana, the legacy of their illustrated career as musicians comes together on brand new album ‘West’, due for release on May 13th. It’s the first of three new records set for release this year (forty new songs in all!), and while it will hit stores as a collection later on in the US, the first album will get a UK and Ireland-exclusive release just in time for their April-May tour.
‘West’ is a record of several component parts; on the one hand, we can feel their origins in the dust bowl, in the creative, artsy music scene of Austin, and in the long highways stretched out over open plain that they have so frequented over the years. On the other, we hear Pete’s home in the Appalachians, an Irish Celtic approach to forming melody and phrasing against the Glen Campbell-esque jangling guitars and the grittier sounds of 70s rock. From Lubbock, Texas where they gathered for the second time ever to sing ‘Not Fade Away’ at Buddy Holly’s grave and decided upon their future together, to today, when they travel all of the world spreading their own classics, we feel it all conjoin on this record as if a conscious stare down the annals of time. All the tracks on this thirteen-song record are newly written by the pair, besides the John Stewart cover ‘Queen of Hollywood High’ (a delightful rendition and an album highlight, no less), and the Britpop-esque ‘Perfect Love’, written by John Wicks specifically for them.
Throughout it is clear the duo still have their knack for crafting catchy hooks and intriguing, winding melodies, brought to life by poetic lyricism, as with the likes of folk/bluegrass ditty ‘Elegy’, swing-country masterpiece ‘Locket’, rock ‘n’ roll slammer ‘Travel Day Blues’, Nashville Sound tribute ‘Southern Jumbo’, and Appalachian mountain number ‘Bodhisattva Blues’. Maura’s lead vocals still shine just as brightly as they once did while the instrumentation is perfectly played and the arrangement is carefully orchestrated, making for a rather enjoyable listen, albeit one that takes a little getting used to when compared to the other music of today. The only track on this record I struggle with is the otherwise sweet ‘Jubilee Time’, which shows up Pete’s vocals to be severely struggling with a relatively narrow range. And although Maura does back him up soon after the song’s beginning, his lead role and position lower in the mix than usual makes for an odd listen that doesn’t do justice to the quality of some of the other tracks on offer here.
Having said that, of course, this is a solid record that encompasses much of the duo’s life and times through the developing soul of Americana. Whether backing up the legendary Nanci Griffith or going at it alone, they are sure to always be entertaining.
You can check out their upcoming tour dates below.
April 30 – Glasgow – Woodend Bowling & Lawn Tennis Club
May 1 – Basingstoke – The Forge at The Anvil
May 2 – Topsham, Devon – The Bridge Inn
May 3 – Birmingham – Kitchen Garden Café
May 6 – Southport – Grateful Fred’s at The Atkinson
May 7 Milton Keynes – The Stables
May 8 – London – Kings Place
May 9 – Leeds – Seven Arts
May 10 – Haile, Cumbria – Haile Village Hill