- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

THE KENNEDYS
Positively Live
(Jiffyjam)
The jangle of the Kennedys' guitars makes pop music seem almost as if it had continued on a Beatlesque path from the mid-1960s to the present day. Nobody writes songs like these anymore in any genre. This Reston-based married duo have remained vibrant and productive under the big tent of folk music since teaming up in the mid-1990s.
"Positively Live" is the first of Pete and Maura Kennedys' five CDs to capture the energy of their stage show they trade percussive guitar leads, sing dead-on harmonies and visit Pete Kennedy's bottomless well of licks and riffs time and again. The two are scheduled to celebrate the release of this disc with a concert at 7:30 tonight in Reston Town Center.
Recorded in four venues including two favorite Kennedy hangouts, Andy's in Chestertown, Md., and Happy Endings in Maura Kennedy's hometown of Syracuse, N.Y. the live album is a natural follow-up to the 2000 release of "Evolver," the duo's foray into layered electronic pop.
Stripped down to just two voices and two acoustic guitars, the Kennedys reprise title cuts from their 1995 and 1996 recordings "River of Falling Stars" and "Life Is Large." But the live record includes some previously unrecorded material that the two have been performing the past few years, traditional bluegrass songs such as "The Coo Coo," and a medley of "Cross the Big Sandy," "Black Mountain Rag" and the fiddle-favorite "Orange Blossom Special." These jaw-dropping arrangements never sounded better.
Some of Pete Kennedy's older originals also are featured, including the bluegrassy "Rappahannock" and New-Agey "Shearwater," the title cut from his first instrumental disc.
He also shows the depth of his artistry on guitar, honed by years of touring with such big names as Nanci Griffith and Mary Chapin Carpenter and by sitting in with orchestras at the Kennedy Center (no relation). Who but Pete Kennedy would have imagined inserting a snippet of Ludwig van Beethoven's "Fur Elise" into the Robert Johnson blues standard "Come In My Kitchen"? How many folk-rock duos can get away with playing Johann Sebastian Bach's "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" in a college-town bar?
"Positively Live" answers these questions but begs one more: What will they think of next?
— Jay Votel

SARINA PARIS
Self-titled
(Priority Records)
Singer Sarina Paris is not new to the music scene her singles date to 1994 but this is her first album.
The CD contains "Look At Us," which gained play in dance clubs and quickly became a favorite. But there are 12 fast-tempo tracks on this album, and they all tend to have the same electronic beats and digital sound. Also, Miss Paris' vocal range is limited.
Miss Paris slows the tempo down with a rendition of Cyndi Lauper's "True Colors." With all the electronic beats, however, the song loses its special feel. She would have done well to have listened to Phil Collins' version of it, which is the best.
Miss Paris wants her music to be "nothing intellectual just music to make you happy and feel good," although the listener may wonder what happened to making good music. Considering that her target audience is the 12-to-25-year-old female demographic, she just may accomplish her mission.
This is a good album to play if you're throwing a party. Otherwise, the title of one of the 13 tracks — "Just About Enough" — applies.
— Amy Baskerville

Stone Temple Pilots
Shangri-La Dee Da
(Atlantic Records)
The Stone Temple Pilots seemed one of the least likely to survive of all the grunge bands that emerged from the early 1990s. Accused early on by critics of aping the success of Alice in Chains and Pearl Jam, and crippled after two albums by lead singer Scott Weiland's heroin addiction, the band was set for self-destruction.
But here they still are, with Mr. Weiland recovered and a new album that represents a further creep from being head-banging rockers to mellow ballad writers. The band usually has been stronger on its slow songs, and its fifth release, "Shangri-La Dee Da," is not only full of easygoing rock but some of the best material in the Pilots' career.
That's not to say Stone Temple Pilots shun shouted vocals and pounding guitar riffs. The opening track, "Dumb Love," probably is the heaviest song on the album. But it's there almost to show that the band can still rock, even if members choose to write more songs such as "Days of the Week." This pop-heavy single tells a love story from Monday to Thursday with the appropriate refrain "I'm letting it go, back for another one."
Indeed, it seems as if the man who opened the band's first album singing about being dead is ready to live again. The most promising number on the album is "A Song for Sleeping," a gentle, acoustic-driven piece with its refrain of "There's so much God can teach you if you only have the time." Whether longtime fans will accept Mr. Weiland's transformation from washed-out addict to crooning lovebird remains to be seen, but Stone Temple Pilots have defied expectations before. The band's slow evolution is worth hearing. — Derek Simmonsen

TURIN BRAKES
The Optimist LP
(Astralwerks)
When the British band Coldplay took to the stage at RFK Stadium during Memorial Day weekend, half the crowd fell under the sway of its easy ballads; the other half nearly rioted in frustration. Such an ambivalent reaction is what most groups from across the pond have faced in trying to bring somber rock to the United States.
Thanks to the success of solo artists Badly Drawn Boy and David Gray and bands such as Coldplay, this once insurmountable challenge is getting easier. Enter Turin Brakes, one of the few nonelectronic acts on the popular Astralwerks label. In fact, Turin Brakes is mostly acoustic folk-pop, with an electric guitar throw in here and there, but with a piano as the more popular backing instrument about as far away from techno music as possible.
The duo of Ollie Knights (lead vocals, guitar) and Gale Paridjanian (guitar, harmonies) is not quite the next Simon and Garfunkel, but the two have a knack for creating hummable ballads. The opening track, "Feeling Oblivion," rests heavily on the acoustic skills of the two young Brits, while setting a tone of quiet reflection for the rest of the album. The few times "The Optimist LP" veers off course are when the guys try to actually rock, as on "Slack," a misguided attempt to trade their folk for straight-out rock.
Plodding ballads can get a little heavy over time, though, and the lyrics don't always add much to the music (far too many songs ponder aliens and road trips). A few clever lines, such as "Cub Scouts are screaming/needing ice creaming and all the pleasures of June" save the album from being a complete downer, but, for the most part, the songwriting is not stellar.
America may be ready to quiet down musically, but it's not quite ready to fall down and play dead. A little more life out of "The Optimist LP" could have put Turin Brakes on the short list of U.K. bands able to connect with at least a half-full stadium of U.S. rock fans. D.S.

MANNIX
Come to California
(Mannixrock)
Looking for something to do recently on Delaware's Eastern Shore , I settled on a brew pub because the name of the band playing there was the same as that of my all-time favorite TV show, "Mannix." (The group's lead singer and songwriter, Joe Mannix, even shares the TV private eye's first name.)
To paraphrase the late Victor Kiam: I liked the quartet so much, I bought the CD.
"Come to California" is actually a two-disc, 16-song concept album telling the story of a New Yorker whose girlfriend leaves him to pursue stardom in Hollywood. Unable to get her back, he plots to go west and kill her, then contemplates suicide but comes to his senses and ultimately gets over her and get on with his life.
With its literate lyrics convincingly conveying the protagonist's roller coaster of emotions, Mannix's melodic pop-and-rock variously evokes Boston, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, the Eagles, Billy Joel and Mike Connors. (OK, just kidding about the latter, although it would be clever shtick to open their live show with the "Mannix" TV theme song.)
My favorite tracks include the acoustic "Feel the Way I Do," which recalls melodically the Beatles' "I'll Follow the Sun"; "Take My Blues Away," with its Chuck Berry-like guitar riffs; the haunting "Sunset and Vine"; the frenzied "Gasoline"; and the upbeat finale, "Leave the Past Behind."
The self-produced "Come to California" is clearly deserving of a wider audience than an independent label can give it. (Are you listening, majors?) — Peter Parisi

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