ARE YOU THINKING WHAT I'M THINKING?
On paper, the Like seem so contrived: three young ladies who scored a record deal fresh out of high school and whose fathers are all in the music biz themselves (A&R exec Tony Berg, producer Mitchell Froom and Elvis Costello's drummer, Pete Thomas).
But, surprisingly, the trio -- singer-guitarist Z Berg, bassist Charlotte Froom and drummer Tennessee Thomas -- sound nothing like the fabricated teen-pop one might expect. Instead, the Like recall the Sundays' airy melodies and the Throwing Muses' driving energy. Froom's continuous bass line propels the shimmering "Once Things Look Up," while the ethereal "You Bring Me Down" is grounded by Thomas's syncopated drums.
But the most crucial part of the Like's sound is Berg, who sings with the breeziness of Hope Sandoval and the throaty enunciation of the Cranberries' Dolores O'Riordan. Her confident vocals are captivating in the bouncy album-opener, "June Gloom," as she balances a conversational delivery in the verses with controlled passion in the choruses.
Every so often the Like ventures into teen-angst territory ("I'll never be the one you love," Berg coos on "The One"). But rather than a collection of overwrought diary entries, "Are You Thinking" captures the essence of a carefree teen summer. That lightheartedness gives the Like a surprising maturity, making it easy to forget these musicians' age -- and their industry connections.
-- Catherine P. Lewis
HALF A MILLION MILES
Judging by the 10 years of music they've made together, it's fairly clear that pop-folkers Pete and Maura Kennedy are happy people. But amid the lively melodies and charming, American-rootsy arrangements on their latest recording, "Half a Million Miles," the Kennedys aren't just celebrating life ("Live") and enlightenment ("Listen") -- they're celebrating themselves.
The liner notes reveal that "Namaste" was inspired by the greeting of a sushi-seller in New York's East Village. Fine, but in the song it's a first-person protagonist, in Maura's voice, saying, "I give the same greeting to everyone / It's really quite simple when it's said and done." She goes on to reassure us that "love's already there if your heart is pure" and "you're well on your way when you say these words." Whether or not it's true -- and the Kennedys sure seem to believe it -- it's grating. Two tracks later, we're told "Come on now, live, I can show you how." Oh, and did you know "the darkest hour is just before dawn"? Consider yourselves enlightened.
When they're not setting themselves up as gurus for the Sing Out! set, the duo makes some fine music. Pete Kennedy's guitar solo in "Midnight Ghost" (yeah, it's about Kerouac's train, and yeah, it rhymes "karma" and "dharma") manages to be propulsive without falling into locomotive cliche. They treat Richard Thompson's "How Will I Ever Be Simple Again" with an American dreaminess that suggests "Tennessee Waltz," and Maura Kennedy tells its story gently in a sweet but understated voice.
It's good that the Kennedys are happy; it's good that people like them. It's good that they espouse the teachings of Emerson and Dylan and Eckhart Tolle. It's not so good that they force-feed their listeners rather than letting them find their own paths.
-- Pamela Murray Winters
The Kennedys will perform Sept. 23 at Jammin' Java.