Music from Maura Kennedy
The three years I have been following New York musical duo The Kennedys feel like much longer but are actually just the tip of the iceberg: they recently celebrated their twentieth anniversary both as a married couple and as a singing duo. Yet neither Pete nor Maura Kennedy ever seems to age and their music never gets old. Inspired by The Byrds, The Beatles and Buddy Holly they aim for an upbeat sound somewhere between folk, pop and rock, with lyrics that encourage and inspire. Whenever I see them in concert I speak to them and they are lovely, down-to-earth people.
Over the years The Kennedys have released eleven studio albums as well as various live albums, a ukulele album, a kids’ collection, solo albums and collaborations with other artists. The news of Maura’s latest solo release, Villanelle, piqued my interest and I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy. The concept drew me in: it is a collaboration between Maura and her friend B.D. Love who is a writer, poet and professor. The two conjured up a plan: B.D. would send Maura poems and she would fit them to music – the catch being that he would make no effort to make the poems music-friendly and that she would therefore have to think outside the box to work a melody into them.
Transforming sonnets and other complex poetic forms into songs must have been a challenge, yet the resulting tracks sound fresh, natural and flow smoothly. The album plays well as a whole but for me there are several stand-out tracks. ‘Mockingbird’ is a classic country tune, haunting yet hopeful, whereas ‘Coyotes’ rattles along in a rocky Americana vein. ‘She Worked Her Magic On Me’ has a dark 50s-cabaret feel and combines clever double-entendres with a catchy tune. Maura performs it with real gusto. ‘I Cried To Dream Again’ is based on a poem, which in turn is based on a quote from The Tempest. Slow, sad and ethereal, it creates a temporary dream-world for the listener. ‘Borrowed Dress’ is also impressive, offering up a quietly powerful exploration of immigration.
I had high hopes for Villanelle and it does not disappoint. Maura Kennedy’s voice is as angelic as ever, the songs are all solid, with a few gems, and there is a diverse range of musical styles. The collaboration with B.D. brings something new while maintaining Maura’s trademark and effective song-writing style. After recording for twenty years it would be easy for both Kennedys to rest on their laurels. Instead, they have recently released a new duo album, Pete has a solo album coming up and Maura has taken this new departure to create a really unusual album I will listen to again and again. The Kennedys are truly remarkable musicians – and truly remarkable people.