After making music together for twenty years, husband and wife duo Pete and Maura Kennedy have gone their separate ways. Well, sort of. They’ve not split up, but, as part of their personal and professional 20th anniversary celebrations they have, as well as the recent release of a duo album, West, also recorded their own solo offerings. For Pete, it’s his first since 2008’s Gunslinger and, playing and singing everything here, was put together over a period of five years. It also flags up his love of jangling guitar folk rock that will call to mind such names as The Byrds, Springsteen, Willie Nile, Dylan and, especially in his husky vocals, Steve Forbert.
A song cycle about New York, it opens with the ringing ‘Union Square’, a vivid portrait of the neighbourhood that manages to include references to the Russian baths, Lucky Luciano, Taxi Driver, Tammany Hall, J.D. Salinger, the Beat poets and, of course, the yellow cabs. The same tone invests ‘The Bells Rang’, a celebration of Harlem, its people and, I assume, the passing of the Civil Rights Act, before crossing to the quietly anthemic ‘Williamsburg Bridge’, a slower paced journey to the Spanish quarter “on the south side of Grand”.
This pretty much lays out the album’s musical and thematic map. The simple acoustic autobiographical ‘Never Stopped Believin’’, about a young drifter finally finding a home in the Big Apple, sees its immigrant theme picked up on Unbreakable, a mandolin-backed tale of the Irish that came from Dublin and Cork and “dug this city out of rock”, while the steady marching rhythm Rise Above, the mandolin-driven ‘People Like Me’ and the jangling, cascading McGuinn-esque chords of ‘Harken’ all bear testament to the many voices and stories that form the city’s community and heart.
Kicking the tempo up and bouncing along on what sounds like a ukulele, ‘Asphodel’ is a poppy nod to Ginsberg and paediatrician-come-poet William Carlos Williams, the title referring to the flower associate with the underworld in Greek mythology. Then things shift dramatically as Kennedy takes on early rock n roll for ‘Riot In Bushwick’, a sort of second cousin to Jailhouse Rock that references the real 70s riots, but transposes events to the cops busting a club.
The album finally arrives at the subject of the cycle with ‘New York’, a mid-tempo, electric guitar rock soloing tribute to the city where the Chrysler Building and Empire State entwine in “the one great soul that enfolds us, and makes us whole” that leads into the stirring five minute American folk-rock ‘Gotham Serenade’, a reprise of the tune and verses from ‘Union Square’ with a new chorus, before the actual ‘Union Square (Reprise)’, which, in fact, isn’t, but rather a coda about Kennedy trying to write songs about New York and the stories its streets could tell.
Many an artist has been inspired to put pen to paper, words to music, by New York. Kennedy’s album is up there with the best of them.
Artist’s website: http://www.kennedysmusic.com/
This isn’t on the album but what’s not to like?