The Kennedys, “Positively Live!”

The Kennedys, “Positively Live!” [Jiffyjam; available at]

Joy To You and Yours

December, 2006


As the holiday season approaches, my thoughts turn to spreading some simple joy to people everywhere: lining the streets of Belfast, picking chiles in Mexico, or rice in China, symphony goers in mid-Manhattan or children listening to the stories of griots in West Africa. When thinking about a gem of a recording that spreads absolute joy at every turn of phrase, I can think of nothing better than Pete and Maura Kennedy delivering their pack-a-punch joyous music on their disc, “Positively Live!” Not only is this recording a raging joyous romp, but its sonics are simply superb, capturing this duo live in wonderful, direct, heart pulsing beauty. 

The Kennedys are the guitar duo of Pete and Maura, married to each other and to the delivery of stirring folk, blues, classical rifts and everything else in between. Maura has a beautiful, lilting voice that reaches for Pete’s harmonies at every turn, and there is nothing sweeter than their confluence on the beautiful ballad here, “Distant Thunder.” Speaking of confluence, there is the gorgeous softness of Maura’s vocals on “River of Fallen Stars” which flows from the staccato airy strums of Maura’s guitar to Pete’s plunging solo, using his inventiveness first with light harmonics then swirling into a whirlpool of depth that only Pete could muster in his brilliant guitar mastery. Out of this whirlpool, Pete heads into a filigree rendition of “Jesu, Joy Of Man’s Desiring,” a peaceful, contemplative moment. Each simple yet intricate placement of Pete’s fingers on his fret board is clearly heard in this most natural, up front audiophile quality recording. 

The Kennedys have a great grasp of traditional folk and blues history, and this history infuses everything they play. The traditional bluegrass jangled rhythm of “Rappahannock” has Maura soaring up there with the feeding herons and Pete joining with a clear spring of vocal harmony and quick guitar lines below her. Similarly, the medley of “Cross The Big Sandy”/ “Black Mountain Rag” into a blistering “Orange Blossom Special” is an inspired lesson in the history of traditional bluegrass and folk lines burned up by Pete’s acoustic guitar pyrotechnics and spontaneous string imagination. His guitar technique is pure joy here- the guitar is an amazing vessel of different sounds and textures in his hands. The instrumental “Highway 10” puts down some heavy blues progressions, mixed with classical flamenco turns and winds up with both Pete And Maura strumming in airy unison. The natural sonics of this recording will have your system trying to keep up with Pete’s flashes and the deep plunges of his bass or his touches of the guitar’s wooden surface and its natural decay. The soundstage is wide and alive with the illumination of the small coffee house recording spaces and image dimensionality is first rate. Once you sit down amongst the audience, you will be transfixed. 

And how about those joyous blues! The Kennedys are masters at pulling out all the stops on great traditional blues numbers like Robert Johnson’s “Come In My Kitchen.” This piece starts out simple enough but takes a major left turn in the capable hands of the Kennedys as they create a stew combining classical and jazz rifts spiced by Pete’s patented loosening of his bass string until it almost falls off his guitar to get the deepest, pungent bass and strange sonic concoctions you will ever hear in such a “traditional” blues number. Don’t even get me started on the joyous musical ride that the Kennedy’s deliver on their masterful “Sirens,” a nearly ten minute escapade that starts from the title tune highlighting Maura’s shimmering high tone and then plunges into a maelstrom of textures and genres. They move from classical to The Who, as Pete and Maura light it up with their singular and communal guitar skills. The Kennedys end this journey where they start this disc, with a soaring, joyous recall of their signature ballad, “Life Is Large.” This is my favorite song to start the day. It must be a favorite of the Kennedys too because they have played, “Life Is Large” to rev up their spirited concerts whenever I have had the pleasure of seeing them live. “Life Is Large” is filled with a precious, soaring melody and infectious vocals that should push you out of your chair and out onto the dance floor. Joy– that’s the heart of the Kennedys’ song. Catch it as soon as you can! 

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