I arrived at The Kennedys show, at Jammin’ Java in Vienna, VA last week, in the foulest of moods. I had a crappy day at work, the election news was ticking me off, I had hurt my back and I didn’t have a chance to eat before leaving for the show. In short, I did not want to be there. What I wanted was to be deep into my third rum and coke!
Two hours later, I didn’t want to be anywhere else.
The beauty of music – in fact its purpose – is to provoke a meaningful emotional response. The Kennedys provoke joy – at least they did for me.
From the opening notes of “Life is Large”– enthusiastically advising all of us to live life to the fullest– to the last, dying note of “Travel Day Blues,” a Chuck Berry inspired travelogue through life, the Kennedys did not disappoint.
Pete and Maura Kennedy have been producing great music together since their debut album, River of Fallen Stars, in 1995. Maura has a lovely, clear voice, somewhat reminiscent of Nanci Griffith, for whom she was a backup singer in the early ’90s. Pete Kennedy is an accomplished guitarist, able to play, it seems, almost any style that suits him. Their music can probably be best characterized as folk-rock, but they incorporate so many elements from other genres it is difficult to pigeon-hole them easily.
That eclectic mix was on full display at Jammin’ Java. Their set list consisted of songs ranging from John Stewart’s fun tribute to California’s “blonde” culture, “Queen of Hollywood High,” to the country inflected sentimentality of “Sisters of the Road,” and the straight up rockabilly of “Riot in Bushwick,” a raucous tribute to the rebelliousness of rock ‘n’ roll off of Pete Kennedy’s solo record, Heart of Gotham.
My favorite of the night was “Fireflies,” from Maura Kennedy’s new solo album Villianelle, a collaboration between Kennedy and poet B.D. Love, whose poems provide the lyrics. The tune itself is hard to classify. I couldn’t help but hear themes from the “Polovtsian Dances” by Borodin, with a little Jefferson Airplane mixed in. May be my imagination. The lyric was a beautiful affirmation of the fragility of life and the need to make the most of it. I look forward to listening to the rest of the album.
Pete Kennedy is primarily an instrumentalist, one who clearly loves what he does. His guitar playing is off-the-chart good. The best part is he doesn’t take himself too seriously. Unlike others who grimace as they play in an apparent struggle to “feel the music,” Kennedy seems relaxed and joyful as he plays. An example of this was his very cool cover of Jerry Reed’s surf guitar masterpiece, “The Mad Russian,” at the end of which he snuck in a sample of the “James Bond Theme.” It was done so effortlessly I had to look up if that was where it actually came from.
Overall, I could not have found a better antidote for my foul mood.
A big believer in education, Pete Kennedy conducts music workshops and teaches at music camps throughout the country. At one of these, Pete Kennedy ran into 14 year old prodigy, Aron Stornaiuolo. Opening up the show, Aron played primarily jazz standards, including a great version of “Beyond the Sea.” His guitar skills are pretty astonishing for someone who has only been playing for six years, and his singing voice, while still maturing, is powerful for one so young, and spot on in its intonation. He is definitely someone to keep an eye on.