The Kennedys have a song that has in many ways become a bit of a signature song in their live set. “Half a Million Miles” was the title track on what was, I think, their 8th album. It’s a wonderful song, and it’s about Pete and Maura themselves and their lives together, how their meeting and falling in love on a rainy Lubbock Texas day put them on a journey of music and love that would take them half a million miles and then some.
A half a million of anything is a lot, but a half a million miles is almost too much to get one’s head around.
The distance to the south pole from Syracuse is 9178 Miles, that’s 54 trips back and forth to get to half a million.
How long would it take you?
If you had 25 years do you think you could do it?
Would it be easier if you had the love of your life with you?
No matter how you accomplish it, to get to half a million miles, you have to start with mile one.
You have to say, “here we go, on this journey, wherever it takes us, together”.
This is not an album review, not really.
This is a love story.
The love of music. The love of songs. The love between a man and a woman. Our couple, working, touring musicians. He from Washington DC, she from North Syracuse NY, met under a Blue Moon that was conjured up by a Lone Star legend, and with the blessing of Buddy Holly himself they set forth on a career, and a life of music, adventure and loving partnership that would take them half a million miles and more.
Like any journey, it all starts with that first mile, a series of steps taken, hand in hand, 25 years ago.
25 is a milestone anniversary, a time to reflect, to take stock. 25 years is a chance to celebrate. First steps of a career, and first steps of a life of music, adventure and loving partnership.
That first step was River of Fallen Stars, released just days after the passing of Pete Kennedy’s father and only a few months after their wedding, River of Fallen Stars is pure magic in every imaginable way.
There are a lot of artists who would sell their souls to the devil in some Robert Johnson/Faustian transaction at the crossroads for a debut this good. The Kennedys didn’t have to do that, their souls were already spoken for by one another, and the product is truly magnificent.
You can hear the conversations from songs and songwriters past in the threads of the tapestry woven by Pete & Maura on the album, much in the same way jazz players take the compositions that informed and influenced them and use those tones and themes to create something new. Which is why when I rave about The Kennedys to those not in the know, that I am absolutely unable to describe the sound. I’m one of those guys who will stubbornly avoid using those limiting genre assignments like the plague. I mean, when have you ever gone to a folk/pop/rock kind of jangle rock show and the guitar player whips out a ukulele and plays Rhapsody in Blue on it? It’s pretty badass.
River of Fallen Stars takes all those life long influences that made Pete and Maura who they are and filters them through the lens of a run of shows in the British Isles and a residency in Ireland. On songs like the gloriously mystical Chelsea Embankment you are taken on a walking tour of the north bank of the River Themes, the street names so lyrically uttered as if an incantation to conjure the spirts of the long gone souls of London Town. On this album, the concept of place is not just an influence, it’s a collaborator, the voices are there in between the notes.
Fitting that the opening, title track, opens with the sound of two guitars harmonically converged like the players playing them, around Maura’s beautiful voice and the poetry of the lyrics. If you close your eyes you can see the Giant’s Causeway at the northernmost tip of Northern Ireland where the sky must go on forever as it becomes one with the sea in the horizon.
“Day in and Day Out” is a special song, it’s the first song they wrote together and it’s a beautifully heartbreaking love song about longing for someone and holding that person in your heart for years. Maura’s voice on this song is so achingly poignant that it could just rip the heart right out of your chest.
Speaking of Irish hearts, as one who eschews all the green painted merry making that occurs in the middle of March in favor of a quiet, annual re-reading of The Dubliners by the window with a cup of Barry’s tea, I find particular joy within the verses of “Grafton Street” with it’s illusions to Joyce and walking by the Liffey in the rain. In just under three minutes, The Kennedys paint a cinematic vision of Dublin that, for me, washes away the stereotypes of the season. For those of us who struggle with Irish identity given the onslaught of popular culture at this time of year, I am eternally grateful for this quiet, literate reminder of the true, gentler nature of my ancestry.
I have to mention their cover of Richard Thompson’s “Wall of Death”, one of the world’s most perfect songs and theirs is my all time favorite version of it. Pete’s guitar jangles better than any Byrd could have. (It, along with the John Stewart song “Queen of Hollywood High” are two covers The Kennedys do that I say are better than the originals and I’ll fight anyone who says otherwise.)
Like I said, I’m someone who writes about music and almost stubbornly refuses to simply define a collection of music with some stale association of genre. With River of Fallen Stars that refusal is kind of handy, because this is an album, an album in the truest sense of the word and one that doesn’t allow you to pigeon hole. It’s a document of a writer’s trip to the birthplace of the language. It’s the first step of a half a million mile journey of a couple who opened their arms to the world together and drank in the environment around them as well as the musicians and writers who came before them.
The result is magical.
There really is something about those islands. Not a bad place to take those first steps from.
Syracuse people and people who can come to Syracuse: The Kennedys, in celebration of River of Fallen Stars’ 25th anniversary, will be playing the album in it’s entirety along with other favorites and requests (**Cough…bicycles with broken spokes! Cough**) on April 30th, 8PM at Funk n Waffles.
Tickets for this special show in Maura’s hometown can be gotten here.
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