- The Washington Times - Friday, June 26, 2009

As leader of the Wooden Birds, Andrew Kenny pairs intimate, sunny guitar chords with melancholy lyrics. The songs may be sad, but their creator couldn’t be more content.

“I’m a pretty happy guy,” he says, laughing. “I write songs about being brokenhearted, but I happen to have a really loving wife. We’re totally happy together. The lyrics just come from a lot of life experiences.”

Before launching the Wooden Birds as a vehicle for his organic pop songs, Mr. Kenny cut his teeth with the American Analog Set. The Texas-based band formed in 1995 and released six albums in 10 years, amassing a modest audience along the way. Following the band’s decision to stop touring in 2006, Mr. Kenny began composing material on his own.

Working alone required him to embrace a quiet, stripped-down sound. When good lyrics wouldn’t come, he used wordless syllables instead, a trick that lent a breezy feel to the material. Instead of adding traditional percussion to the mix, he simply flipped over his acoustic guitar and drummed on its backside, using his hands to create a steady beat.

“The rhythm became superimportant,” he says of the process. “This is the ‘beatiest’ album I’ve ever made, although there are no real drums on the record.”

No drummers joined the Wooden Birds’ lineup, but Mr. Kenny did enlist the help of several friends. Chief among them was harmony vocalist Leslie Sisson, who added a cooling touch to his lyrics. With the membership intact, the Wooden Birds cemented their sound with “Magnolia,” an album filled with rainy-day pop songs and charming, wistful narratives.

Playing the album in concert required further changes, including the addition of a full-time hand percussionist. A recent European tour gave the musicians enough time to tighten their sound, and Mr. Kenny is happy with the progress. Even so, he continues to field questions about his sad lyrics — including several from his wife.

“She wonders where the sad songs come from,” he says. “Maybe I’ll eventually exhaust all my heartbroken memories and write my very own ‘Good Day, Sunshine’ for her. In the meantime, I have all these songs about past experiences that are horrible, and I think I’ll be able to write those until I’m 65. I’ve still got a lot in the bank when it comes to losing.”

Realizing how distressed he sounds, the affable frontman laughs again. “But I’m a lucky guy. I’m happy, my band sounds good, and I’m proud of the record. I’m in a pretty good place right now.”

The Wooden Birds will perform Friday at the Rock & Roll Hotel. Tickets are $12, and music begins at 10 p.m.

Marley family ties

In 1979, an 11-year-old named Ziggy Marley joined his father, reggae legend Bob Marley, in the recording studio. The result was “Children Playing in the Streets,” a charity single that featured contributions from four of Bob Marley’s offspring. When their father died in 1981, the children carried the family torch by forming the Melody Makers.

Ziggy was his father’s oldest son, and he soon became the Melody Makers’ de factor leader. Despite the opportunity to launch a solo career, Ziggy chose to remain with the Melody Makers, making pop-influenced reggae music with his siblings for nearly two decades.

Ziggy Marley is now a proper solo artist, with several albums under his belt, including the Grammy Award-winning “Love Is My Religion.” Despite such achievements, family continues to be at the forefront of his agenda. “Family Time,” his most recent release, shines a spotlight on his children, one of whom makes an appearance on the album.

“My youngest kids, Judah and Gideon, they played a big part in me writing the songs and doing the record,” he says. “They were always around, and they’re a big influence.”

Three year-old Judah spent time with her father in the studio, even lending her vocals to the album’s title track.

“Lift up your hearts with a smile,” she and Ziggy sing in the song’s chorus. “Lift up your feet with a dance, lift up your spirits with a song. It’s family time.”

Although the album features guest appearances by Jack Johnson, Paul Simon and actress Jamie Lee Curtis, “Family Time” is unmistakably a product of the Marley family, featuring the same blend of reggae music and social consciousness that helped vault Bob Marley to fame.

By focusing on a younger generation, Ziggy Marley hopes to impart the music’s values to a new crop of listeners. Although he is co-headlining a national tour with 311, he still finds time to engage his newest, tiniest fans.

“We’re doing some shows in the morning at a different venue for kids, and then we do the other shows in the afternoon,” he explains. “Some of the places have been theaters, and some are in bookstores with a courtyard type of vibe. It’s cool.”

Judah hasn’t been joining her father on the road — she’s much too young for that — but her dad thinks she may have a career ahead of her.

“She likes to be up on there onstage,” he says. “She’s artistic, she’s bright, she’s smart. She can do whatever she wants. I don’t know if she’ll choose music, but she has the ability.”

Ziggy Marley and 311 play the Nissan Pavilion on Sunday. Doors open at 6:30 p.m., and tickets begin at $30. Group discounts are available at LiveNation.com.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

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