Saturday, 12 July 2014

Review: The Kennedys - Dance a Little Closer


 As you may remember, I saw Pete and Maura Kennedy live in Southport in June performing a show of the songs of Nanci Griffith. I had previously seen this show in 2013. Both evenings were very enjoyable.

 In June I came away with the Kennedys' live album of Nanci songs, Dance a Little Closer, and it is my great pleasure to review it for you.


 The album opens with a lively rendition of Nanci's upbeat I Wish It Would Rain. It is followed by Trouble in the Fields, which the Kennedys manage to adapt slightly, yet keep completely true to the sentiment of the original: sad but hopeful.

 Next comes Across the Great Divide. I always find it so poignant and moving hearing the Kennedys perform this song, as they sang it with Nanci twenty years ago when they were her guitarist and backing singer, and it is great to see it come full circle.

 It is also interesting for being the cover of a cover - the Kennedys' version of Nanci Griffith's version of a Kate Wolf song. Through its reincarnations it has managed to stay anchored firmly to the the roots of the song: a sense of loneliness, of a haunting, of coming to terms with a loss with bravery and acceptance.

 Maura Kennedy's voice is always very beautiful but in this song especially, and in several others on this album, I noticed something extra in it - a deep kind of wisdom, of knowledge and sincerity, of someone who's seen many corners of the world. And so she has. It is very special to hear.

 The next track is Late Night Grand Hotel, which the Kennedys previously recorded for their album Songs of the Open road. That version was nice, but this song suits being live. Maura has mentioned how important this song is to her as it reminds her of when she first started touring with Nanci. It is also a favourite of mine.

 The original Late Night Grand Hotel is one of the more heavily produced Nanci tracks, so contrasts the most of any song on this album with the Kennedys' raw, emotional, acoustic trademark style.

 For me, the best part of the original was the way Nanci sang the line,

"No-one ever knows the heart of anyone else,"

 with such open sadness. I listened out to hear how Maura would do it, and was pleased to hear something similar in her voice.

 I like how the "no"s in the chorus were held back until the end. Something I think might have been nice is for no-one to sing them on the first chorus, then Maura on her own, then Pete on his own, then both of them, rather than nobody and then both. But the way they did it still works and I prefer it to Nanci's having them all the way through.

 The Kennedys also add a nice little bridge between the first chorus and second verse and an instrumental at the end, with lovely-as-ever guitar work from Pete. Overall, they did a great job on one of my favourite Nanci songs.

 Their version of Lone Star State of Mind - another cover-of-a-cover - is pleasant, although I'm not too keen on the jazzy feel they have introduced. Still, it is good that they made it their own. At the very end it reverts back to folksy with some more great guitar work.

 There's a Light Beyond These Woods is another song that is important to Maura as she witnessed a very emotional performance of it by Nanci which deeply moved her. She sings it beautifully; I especially like the way she sings,

"All the dreams we sang..."

 I'm Not Drivin' These Wheels is a song which I liked when I was younger, which I lost, and which I spent ages trying to find again by listening to snippets of songs on Amazon.

 I'm glad the Kennedys like it and identify with it as well - enough to include it not only on this album but also as their contribution on the Nanci tribute album by various artists, Trouble in the Fields, which they produced.

 Their version is perfect - it keeps everything good about the original and adds some very Kennedys guitar licks. A lovely piece of musicianship.

 I have sung the praises at least twice in the past of the Kennedys' version of Gulf Coast Highway, which I prefer to the original - theirs is softer, more gentle, while the original is sharper and more dramatic. The last verse, where Maura sings on her own and is then joined by Pete, is very lovely.

 They then go back up-tempo with Love Wore a Halo (Back Before the War). I feel this is often neglected as a Nanci song, and it's a good one. I'm glad the Kennedys are fans. Their version live is uproarious and great to sing along to, and the recording manages to capture that fun and spirit.

 We then have From a Distance. I don't really like Nanci's version of this, and I found the Kennedys' one very similar - it is probably the truest to the original of any song on the album. Still, Maura's voice is especially nice on the chorus.

 Ford Econoline moves in the vein of Love Wore a Halo: wild and joyful. I get the impression from the amount of applause that it may have been the final song in the concert and I agree that it is a great note to finish a night on - so happy and fun.

 The penultimate track is Love at the Five and Dime. I would really have liked this to be the ultimate track as I think it sums up all this album is about, plus it contains the line that forms the title of the album:

"Dance a little closer to me."

 It's slower than Nanci's version and I like it that way - they seem to put more focus on the story and the emotion than on the melody, although the melody is there and is strong.

 The final track is Hell No (I'm Not Alright). I don't want to comment on the song because I don't understand the politics behind it; even after watching the video I'm not sure what message Nanci is actually trying to give out. So I'll comment only on the musical side: the Kennedys play it well and with great enthusiasm.

 This album was very enjoyable to listen to - if there are a couple of songs I wouldn't listen to regularly, it's because I dislike the original, not because the Kennedys have done anything wrong. Maura's voice is gorgeous as ever; Pete's guitar playing is sublime; the two make an amazing duo. I've said these things many times before but they never stop being true.

 Overall, a lovely piece of work that is true to the person it is celebrating while incorporating the artists' own personalities, which is the best way to do a tribute.

 Rating: 8/10

Song: Across the Great Divide - Nanci Griffith - 1993

 More Kennedys pieces:

Amazing news and the Kennedys
Review: The Kennedys - Closer Than You Know
Interview with the Kennedys
A night with the Kennedys
A special night in Southport
A few more JSC songs
A magical evening

 Wow, I've written a lot about the Kennedys!

 Thanks for reading,

 Liz x

1 comment:

  1. Inspired me to listen to some new music! Thanks :)