The Kennedys, a D.C.-area husband-and-wife folk-pop team, have been tearing up the scene since their 1995 debut, the Celtic-tinged River of Fallen Stars (Green Linnet). The jangly guitars, tight harmonies, positive energy, and smart lyrics found on this album and its all-star follow-up, 1996's Life Is Large, garnered the couple many awards, including more than 30 Wammies (Washington Area Music Awards) and a National Association of Independent Record Distributors indie award for best contemporary adult album for River.
The couple met at a guitar pull in Austin when Pete was playing guitar in Nanci Griffith's Blue Moon Orchestra. After an informal evening together (during which they wrote their first song), Pete went to Colorado for a festival but called Maura. The pair scheduled their first date: a visit to Buddy Holly's grave, a rendezvous that required them both to drive 500 miles. Maura soon replaced Iris DeMent as harmony singer on Griffith's tour, and Pete and Maura took Iris' place as the opening act for the European leg of the tour. During this tour, they wrote songs frantically, some of which found their way onto the couple's first disc.
D.C. native Pete handles most of the heavy guitar duties just as he once did for Griffith on her Grammy-winning Other Voices, Other Rooms and on tour. He also spent some time playing with Mary Chapin Carpenter's band. He released a few solo instrumental discs to much local acclaim before meeting Maura. She hails from Syracuse, NY, and gained some fame with the alt-country Delta Rays in Austin. Before that, she had won the New York Country Music Association's Songwriter of the Year Award and wrote songs for Warner Music.
The duo's second album, Life Is Large, featured visits from a large variety of folks, including Roger McGuinn, Steve Earle, Kelly Willis, Nils Lofgren, the Dixie Hummingbirds, Peter Holsapple, Susan Cowsill, and John Gorka, among others. Actually, it was the Kennedys who did most of the visiting. While most of the disc was recorded in Virginia, many of the cameos were laid down when the pair traveled through Nashville, Austin, and Florida while they toured with Griffith.
The duo took a different path in recording their 1998 disc Angel Fire, their first for Rounder's Philo label. They recorded all of the new songs in their home studio, Maple Ridge House, within hours of actually writing the tunes. This gives the record a real freshness and stripped-down feel that is more apparent in the Kennedys' live performances. Fellow local favorites Eddie From Ohio help out with some background vocals on one of the disc's best tunes, "Just Like Henry David," a tune about Thoreau.
Such characters often crop up in their work. On Angel Fire, the pair cites Emily Dickinson, Vaclav Havel, T.S. Eliot, and poets Gary Snyder and John Malcolm Brinnin as inspirations. Evolver followed in 2000, an album that took them in an entirely different direction -- with elements of '60s Britpop, '80s electronic music, and Byrds-inspired harmonies. Positively Live! followed in 2001, Get It Right in 2002, and Stand in 2003. In 2005, the duo released Half a Million Miles, their eighth collection of original material. Songs of the Open Road followed in 2006. ~ Mark Miller