- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Although he has made a name for himself as a longtime sideman for Mary Chapin Carpenter and as a producer of records for some big names in folk music — John Gorka, Janis Ian, Iris Dement and the Indigo Girls, among others — John Jennings has one hat he prefers to wear.

“I would be very happy if people referred to me as a singer-songwriter,” says Mr. Jennings, 51, who this year released his fourth solo recording, titled, simply, “Four.”

Self-produced and with accompaniment by only Dave Mattacks (Fairport Convention) on percussion and Jon Carroll (Starland Vocal Band) on keyboards, the record opens with a song inspired by the Trojan War and closes with a song that draws on the sacking of Rome.

“I’m not giving anyone any history that they don’t know about already — at least I hope they know it,” says Mr. Jennings, who won’t have to travel far from his home in Potomac for his solo performance at Jammin’ Java in Vienna on Saturday at 7 p.m.

The current disc is not all about history, however. One song is titled “Russian Women Want to Meet You Now,” taken from spam Mr. Jennings found in his e-mail inbox.

The songs were written over the span of about a year and recorded in Mr. Jennings’ Charlottesville studio last November. He admits to having some unfinished lyrics when he sat down in the studio. The looming deadline helped move the material along, he says.

“Most of songwriting to me is believing what you have to say,” he says.

Mr. Jennings says he produces or co-produces three or four recordings a year “in a good year,” duties he sandwiches between appearances playing bass in Miss Carpenter’s band.

“I’m a tick,” he says about his musical collaboration with Miss Carpenter. “She’s going to have to burn me off.”

Introduced by Washington singer-songwriter Bill Danoff, Mr. Jennings and Miss Carpenter first performed together in Washington in the 1980s. Mr. Jennings has been a part of Miss Carpenter’s success, recording 11 top-10 singles and winning five Grammys over the years. Mr. Jennings himself has a long list of Washington Area Music Awards (Wammies).

“I’ve been managing to do fun things and keep doing what I want to do,” he says. “And I’m a lucky guy.”

• • •

Cletus Kennelly and Lori Kelley haven’t been singing together all that long, but already they’ve made a mark — winning a 2004 Wammy for best contemporary folk duo or group.

Their debut duo CD, “Lotus,” is hot off the presses and should be available at their free concerts at 8 this evening at Lake Kittamaqundi in Columbia, Md., and at noon Wednesday at the Willow Garden in Bethesda.

Washington-area house concert host Gene Dawson has compared their harmonies to Simon and Garfunkel, a distinction in which Miss Kelley, of Centreville, takes some pride.

Mr. Kennelly, of Silver Spring, points to the Indigo Girls’ “weaving harmonies” as an inspiration, though the two songwriters perform original material almost exclusively. “Lotus” includes songs each had written but had never before recorded. They hope to collaborate on songwriting for future projects.

The two met at a song contest in Clarendon about five years ago.

“We met there and traded CDs,” Mr. Kennelly says. “She learned the harmonies to all my songs in five days. She even learned harmony to a song that didn’t have any harmony on it.”

Within a week, Miss Kelley showed up to sing along with Mr. Kennelly at the regular open mic hosted by the Folk Club of Reston/Herndon.

“I listened to his CD three times a day for three months,” Miss Kelley says.

“The more we sang together,” Mr. Kennelly says, “the more we began to realize that our voices go together really well.”

The two most often appear in and around Washington, though they are planning tours of California this fall and Florida in December.

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