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Mystic folk-loving duo marry open road

By David McPherson, November 2006

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One of Maura's highlights on the new record is the Glen Campbell anti-war song "Galveston," which the Kennedys reinvent sans strings.

"I have always loved that song just for the melody and the sound of it," she says. "In more recent years, I have noticed all the lyrical subtleties of that song. It's an anti-war song, but to me the most poignant part of that song is that because the kid misses his hometown even more than his girlfriend, you realize he is just a kid, and that's the real tragedy of war. I thought it was important to do that song again, but to record it and not hear the strings you hear in the Glen Campbell original version. You hear all those strings, and it is distracting. I think that is why for me the real deep meaning of that song took so long to come out because I was always distracted by that string section. It's more of a country folk rock tune the way we did it."

Since joining forces, these white-line country-folk followers have played more than 1,000 gigs. From one coast to the other and back again, the Kennedys have logged half a million miles. One wonders how these musicians balance life as a touring act with life as a married couple.

"Most musicians have a really strong drive to get to the next gig," comments Pete. "How lucky is it to find someone else who is just like that as your life partner. Neither of us mind getting up and checking out of the hotel every day and driving a couple hundred miles to the next gig because it is those two hours when you are on stage that make the whole thing worth it. We are lucky that we both feel the same way about that."

"Plus, most musicians aren't lucky enough to bring their whole family on the road with them," adds Maura. "We are our whole family. We work together and make music together so we don't have to compromise our personal life to accommodate the musical life."

In their limited leisure time, the Kennedys host a radio show called Dharma Cafˇ on SIRIUS Satellite radio. The show airs Saturdays and Sundays on the free-form channel called Disorder, run by New York City radio legend and free-form DJ pioneer Meg Griffin; she approached the Kennedys two and a half years ago with this opportunity.

"We weren't looking to be DJs, but it was right around the time we moved to New York, and she said 'I know you guys are on the road, and you have seen a lot of places, and you have met a lot of musicians, and you would bring a fresh perspective to radio, which is what they were trying to do at SIRIUS," says Maura. "They knew our tastes were as eclectic as the station was and being a free-form station they really wanted DJs that had an interest in all different types of music. It was a six-month trial basis, and two and a half years later, we are still doing it."

The radio station is aptly titled since the Kennedys are deep-thinking songsmiths who like to weave various Eastern philosophies into their music and into their radio show. Pete tells the story of a recent guest on the Dharma Cafˇ - country songwriter Jim Lauderdale - and how the duo felt an instant connection to this composition companion.

"He had one of those fancy Nudie suits on, only it had Chinese yin-yang symbols all over it," Pete recalls. "We said, 'this is a guy we know we will get along with' because he was doing a combination of roots music with all kinds of wisdom philosophy. It really makes a good mixture. We do that on the radio show and also in our music. We play stuff that will come from sources in country music and folk music and even a little jazz and classical, but lyrically we don't try to ape those genres...lyrically we try to reflect what is on our bookshelf at home, which is going to be a little bit different." "There are bits of Eastern mysticism in there and things to just try and open out the overall culture a little bit. America has been on a very conservative bent for a while, but not everybody in America is like that...in fact the majority of people aren't...it is more the government. I think it is important to counter-balance that strict conservative orthodoxy. We have put that in our music too, so it is a little subversive that way."

From thirteenth century Sufi poet Rumi to the twentieth century cosmic cowboy Gram Parsons, the Kennedys influences span more than genres and generations. And, while "Songs for the Open Road" appears to honor only their more modern influences, Maura is quick to point out that the teachings of ancient poets and philosophers still come through, even in these cover songs.

"On the surface, the Dave Carter song 'Gypsy Road' sounds like a Victorian love song," concludes Maura. "But, on a deeper level it seems similar to Rumi in that he uses this vehicle of a love song as a metaphor for the notion of suppressing the creative part of yourself, which you can not deny."

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