The Cleveland Scene By Michael Gallucci Published: January 13, 2000
It's pretty obvious that Maura and Pete Kennedy are disciples of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They're also followers of the Book of Byrds. So, it's with tongues placed firmly in cheek that they bill their new album, Evolver, as "a new kind of music from the Kennedys." Truth is, there's nothing at all new about Evolver, or the Kennedys for that matter; this is retro pop played by a couple of starry-eyed folkies blinded by the paisley-hued light. It's also a celebration of the jangly 12-string sound of the Rickenbacker. And it's occasionally a glorious salute to pop . . . the kind of pop made before Britney, Christine, and Backstreet turned it into a one-hit career forum.
Evolver (one letter away from -- get it? -- the Beatles' own artistic evolution Revolver) slides between Maura's shiny and pristine radio pop and husband Pete's more adult aspirations. The balance suits the style. Her airy voice lends itself well to his often-restrained guitar playing. They may not be aiming to be a contemporary version of Richard and Linda Thompson -- and such a hefty comparison does neither team any justice -- but the slight edge and dichotomy certainly invites it.
Yet the Kennedys aren't visionaries the way the Thompsons were. They're safe, smart purveyors of classic pop. They even enlist two generations of classic popsters -- the Cowsills' Susan Cowsill and the Bangles' Vicki Peterson -- to assist in their simple and single-minded quest of bringing jingle jangle into the 21st century. The monster hook that powers "Pick You Up" is reason enough to hear Evolver. But this fourth album from the Washington, D.C. duo also provides plenty of other pop thrills borrowed from the past, including their own (he's a former Nanci Griffith sideman who brought his wife on board after co-worker Iris DeMent's solo career took off). The slippery "Strangers" is so mindlessly cheery that it's quite easy to overlook the fact that the song is about extraterrestrial activity in the desert (the Kennedys even recorded the tune in a motel room in Roswell, New Mexico, ground zero for such celestial activity). And that's Evolver's, and retro pop's, testament: light on substance, big on hooks. -- Michael Gallucci
In Music We Trust Review: The Kennedys EvolverIssue 28, February 2000 By: Gary "Pig" Gold
While their fourth album is boldly subtitled "A New Kind Of Music From The Kennedys," Evolver isn't so much a shocking, ground-shattering departure as it is simply a wholly realized sonic maturation of this duo's carefully refined, lovingly defined pop canon. Why, even the most cursory of listens to the nouveau-Appalachia of "If I Weep" and "Down Down Down" demonstrate that while the ambiance and garnishings may be bright and newly fangled, Pete and Maura Kennedy see to it that their songs honestly do remain the same throughout most of this fine record's fifty minutes.
Certainly fun, snappy, guitar 'n' snare Pop is in gorgeous abundance, especially on the opening wallop "Pick You Up" (Buddy Holly by way of Pete Ham!), not to mention "Keep The Place Clean" (co-written by Bill Lloyd, need I say more). Nash-pop overtones flower brightly as well on the delightfully anthemic "Can't Kill Hope With A Gun": now, this is PRECISELY what New Country (Radio) should sound like (if only, in this case, the N.R.A. might turn a blind ear). Absurdly apt under-pinings of retro-exotica swirl beneath several other tracks elsewhere, most effectively on the Tut Taylor / Austin Powers, I kid you not, "Good Morning Groovy." Why, it's hoe-down! No, it's a frug-fest! Stylistic barriers? Evolver has, you see, made melodic mincemeat of them all.
And while nit-pickers may just be able to locate a semi-indulgent sidestep or two (perhaps in the B-side-of-some-foreign-E.P.-worthy-at-best "Mr. Lucky Man"), rest assured Maura's vocals have never sounded so twi-lit assured, Pete's wall-of-guitar arrangements have never reached such shimmering heights, and most importantly of all the pair's song-writing, especially lyrically, has NEVER rung so finely tuned and positively true. If Evolver is, then, meant to be one of those there "transition" albums, then The Kennedys are surely now en route to some downright dizzying destinations indeed!
Rambles A Cultural Arts Magazine Review: The Kennedys Evolver By Jo Morrison The Kennedys simultaneously break new ground for themselves and return to their first loves on this unusual recording. Featuring all new material that sports throw-back sounds to '60s, '70s, and early '80s pop, this is a gem of a find for anyone who's a fan of true pop music. From Beach Boys-like harmonies to Beatlesesque guitar sounds, this percussion-driven music will sound like something you might have heard on any pop radio station in the mid-'70s, except it has that distinctive stamp that only Pete and Maura Kennedy can give it.
Recorded almost exclusively in hotel rooms during their extensive touring, the music has the fresh edge of music written and recorded as it is going through the birth process. It's this very freshness that makes this recording work, and it's the variety of sounds and styles represented that keeps it working to the very end. Much of the music features layer upon layer of sound, giving it a texture and depth that was seldom heard on most of the '60s pop it imitates.
Take, for example, "The Girl with the Blonde Eye," where Jethro Tull meets a James Bond soundtrack for a kicky, upbeat tune. Rico Petrocelli guests here with a fabulous flute line that is very reminiscent of Ian Anderson's style. The wordless vocals give just the right inane edge to make you believe you must be watching a spy thriller opening shot, and the guitar solo at the end provides the exact exit one would expect from such a track.
Sounding much like something from the early Beatles repertoire, "Keep the Place Clean" has an edgy sound with Pete on the melody and Maura on an unusual harmony part. The upbeat sound, odd harmony and strange lyrics combine to make for an off-the-wall cut.
Unquestionably my favorite cut is the opener, "Pick You Up," which sounds uncannily like ABBA at the end of their career. I'd almost swear this must have been a cut they accidentally left off ABBA's last album, The Visitors, and the Kennedys somehow came across it and picked it up. A definite blast from the past.
There's a Hollies-influenced track, "Free," filled with pop-beat percussion by Vince Santoro and upbeat lyrics in Maura's uplifting voice. A very post-modern, artsy track, "Mr. Lucky Man," features the classic Kennedys' "jangly" guitars and lots of special effects that make you think you're hearing the soundtrack to a cyberpunk video. Although sporting a bit too regular a rhythm, "World Away" has a bit of a Kansas influence to it, especially in the ethereal synthesizer solo in the middle.
The one track that isn't new material is a Gene Clark song from 1965, "Here Without You." Sounding a bit like the Mamas and the Papas, with a little ABBA thrown in for kicks and grins, this track could easily have been lifted from the mid-'60s, but has just the right edge to fit in with all the new material in this collection.
There are a few wonderful instrumental additions to the mixes, giving this pop a very modern edge. When, in the '70s, would anyone have added hammered dulcimer (Jody Marshall) to a pop song? Despite the female vocals, "If I Weep" sounds like it could have come off ELO's mid-'70s LP Time. My favorite addition is the "log harp" Pete plays on the uncharacteristically dark cut, "Down, Down, Down." Sounding much like a thumb piano, the hollow percussive tones sound like rhythmic raindrops surrounding Maura's resigned vocals. There's a bit of a digeridoo-like effect on this one as well.
The Kennedys display their sense of humor throughout, with little jabs at various styles, all done with a sense of respect tucked in. "Good Morning Groovy," for example, plays like an energetic Japanese band imitating American pop from the '70s. The lyrics, the words, everything is just right for the society that brought us Anime but loves American culture. Then there's "Strangers," with lyrics about "strangers in the sky," and "believe we're the only ones?" which was recorded in their Roswell, NM, hotel room. Don't miss the hidden track after this last cut, with a few sound effects like the alien ship lifting off, perhaps with the Kennedys along for the ride.
MWE3.com Review: The Kennedys Evolver By Robert Silverstein
One of the highlights on the latest album from The Kennedys has got to be their haunting cover of “Here Without You”, a song written and recorded by Gene Clark during his brief but influential time in The Byrds. The Kennedys are, in essence, the husband and wife team of Pete & Maura Kennedy and on their new album Evolver they’ve come up with a modern day retro-pop classic that recalls mid ‘60s pop classics like Rubber Soul and the treasure trove of early Byrds albums. Pete’s ringing 6 and 12 string guitars drive the songs along at a nice clip with Maura Kennedy’s vocals conjuring up images of classic song stylists such as Dusty Springfield and Marti Jones. The duo handles much of the musical instrumentation and the lead vocals with help from Vince Santoro (drums) and background vocals from Parthenon Huxley, Susan Cowsill (from The Cowsills) and Vicki Peterson (from The Bangles). The period piece cover art parallels the ‘60 retro musical vibe running throughout the album. Ranging in style from folk-tinged country rock to ‘60s paisley pop, The Kennedys cover all the bases with the playfully titled Evolver. www.KennedysMusic.com
A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange By David Schultz (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Kennedys' latest album Evolver is subtitled A New Kind of Music. Both the title and subtitle are quite appropriate. The Kennedys, who are perennial winners of WAMMIES (Washington Area Music Awards, D.C.'s local version of the Grammys), take their acoustic roots into territory that is more true to their 60's-influenced pop music. Make no mistake, Evolver is more produced and would sound more at home on adult contemporary radio than on NPR. Nevertheless, the evolution works in this context. With a cutesy voice (think the Bangles' Suzanna Hoffs), Maura Kennedy sings the lead song, Pick You Up, which is pure unadulterated pop, and would make a great summer cartop-down sing-along single. Another good candidate for radio would be the uplifting Can't Kill Hope with a Gun. The richness of the sound characterizes Evolver, as noted by the girl-group harmonies on Keep The Place Clean.
Pete Kennedy, formerly of Nanci Griffith's and Mary Chapin-Carpenter's bands, is the Jimi Hendrix of the acoustic 12-string guitar - he can make sounds come from acoustic guitars that no one else can. Good Morning Groovy and the instrumental The Girl with the Blonde Eye are nice showcases for his talent. The Girl with the Blonde Eye and the Sheryl Crow soundalike Mr. Lucky Man would fit comfortably on the soundtrack for the next Bond movie. Picture a silhouetted Maura singing the song as the opening credits roll. Pete and Maura's voices blend in a CSNY-styled Here Without You.
Pete and Maura Kennedy write positive music - no self-introspective drivel or overindulgent lyrics characteristic of some singer-songwriters. Thus, the happy pop song is the perfect vehicle for their music. The Kennedys do such a good job at imitating styles, don't be surprised if the songs sound somewhat familiar, like listening to the bygone days of AM radio. The Kennedys are unapologetic throwbacks to the 60's, but with enough of a dose of contemporary music to make it sound hip.