- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 9, 2003

Almost two years ago, Pete and Maura Kennedy left their home in Northern Virginia and took their jangly guitars on a folk-pop pilgrimage to New York’s Greenwich Village. It’s been an inspiration, judging by the 10 new songs on “Stand,” the husband-and-wife duo’s seventh disc, released on Koch Records, their fifth and most recent label.

Light, breezy pop tunes such as “Dharma Cafe” and “Raindrop” are juxtaposed against powerful, darker songs with images of war. The result, on balance, is an entertaining disc that suitably spotlights Mr. Kennedy’s world-class guitar playing and Mrs. Kennedy’s lithe singing.

The title track urges listeners to “Come on and stand, plant your sword in the sand,” and in “Ashes and Sand,” the lyric asks, plainly, “How you gonna wash away the blood from your hands?” Three songs have references to pilgrims. One, titled “Pilgrim,” refers to tanks “rolling through the land of milk and honey.”

However, the Kennedys leave politics aside with their covers of Nerissa Nields’ “Easy People,” long a concert favorite for the duo, and a well-crafted version of the late Dave Carter’s “When I Go,” a hauntingly spiritual song.

“Anna and the Magic Gown” is a fable that sounds like a quick-step traditional song, “Tupelo” is country-tinged pop, and “Dance Around in the Rain” is a love song with New York imagery.

Clearly, the Kennedys have found that life in the Big Apple agrees with them.

Chris Smither

“Train Home”

Hightone Records

Zen guitar groove master Chris Smither waxes philosophical and weaves his finger-style, toe-tapping spell through 11 tracks on his latest disc, which features a guest appearance on slide guitar and vocals by Bonnie Raitt.

Miss Raitt’s 1972 cover of Mr. Smither’s “Love Me Like a Man” helped both achieve lasting fame. On “Train Home,” the two team up for the first time on record. They cover Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row”; appropriately dirge-like blues guitars build with layers of snare drums and New Orleans-style horns swirling with chords behind the powerful lyrics.

Mr. Smither also ably covers the late Dave Carter’s “Crocodile Man,” an almost hip-hop talking blues, as well as Richie Furay’s “Kind Woman” and Mississippi John Hurt’s raunchy, suggestive “Candy Man.”

Yet it is his finely crafted lyrics, married to his expressive — and at times beautiful — guitar work that carries Mr. Smither’s own compositions beyond these well-chosen covers.

Chris Smither has a way of pushing a metaphor to the breaking point and beyond, giving the blues a new dimension. His title track, for example, is an extended metaphor taking issue with the idea of an afterlife. He delves more deeply into Eastern philosophical mystery in “Outside In”: “The biggest thoughts of bigger things are really pretty small,” he sings. A listener can practically envision his winsome smile.

What would a blues record be without a faithless-woman song? Mr. Smither paints a picture in words and music with a bouncy “Lola”: “I said, ‘Have a heart,’/she told me to my face/’What little heart I got/is in the wrong place.’”

His “Let it Go,” a talking blues about the theft of his car, rings true, despite the fact that it lacks the craftsmanship displayed in the other original songs on this disc.

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