A fresh set of eyes can lend new credence to a long-held point of view. Many, MANY songs have been written about the spare beauty of West Texas, but Drew Kennedy writes about it as someone who chose to live there – the Pennsylvania native moved to the Texas Hill Country, raising a family in his adopted home while pursuing music. His self-made love of the Lone Star State is the basis for his ninth album, Marathon, named for the small town that captured his songwriter’s imagination.
Kennedy describes Marathon (the record) as a movie, and the songs do paint cinematic images, but with an indie film’s sensibility – he and producer Davis Naish recorded the album in a small house in Marathon, using the small collection of instruments they brought with them and whatever else they found lying about (slamming doors, a chair back and even a Pringles can), all in the interest of simplicity. The title track, which Kennedy envisions as an “opening credits” sort of history lesson to the small town, chronicles the geography and development of this part of the world, and it’s not all kind – “The railroad coast to coasted/On tracks sewn by Chinese ghosts/For pocket change.” Add in some subtle piano and a canyon-esque vocal echo, and you have an excellent (if pensive) road song.
Marathon’s storyline shifts to present-day in “Peace and Quiet,” penned with songwriter Matraca Berg and Nitty Gritty Dirt Band’s Jeff Hanna. Kennedy’s main character, dealing with a broken heart, has begun to adjust to the lonely life he seems to have chosen for himself – “It’s a cold and empty house in your headlights…But I’m making peace with all this peace and quiet.” The pace picks up as our hero opts to hit the road in ”The Hat” when the singer meets with a vet rolling “His creaking VA wheelchair down the street our houses share.” The old-timer gifts the young man a similarly beat-up Stetson, asking the younger man to take the hat on the journeys he can no longer enjoy – “It ain’t about the hat I’m giving you, you know/It’s the chance to stretch my legs a few more times before I go.” If he can’t make the trip, maybe tales from the road will suffice.
The magic of Marathon comes in Kennedy’s ability to hit all the Texas highlights without slipping into cheap country cliche. ”West Texas Cloud Appreciation Society,” a light-as-a-breeze, piano-driven tune, describes the pleasures that best complement an endless sky – “heat in your salsa, and Bob Wills in your waltzes.” The somewhat melancholy ”Hi-Ho Silver” has Kennedy putting himself in the company of Hemingway and Shakespeare in one sense – a shared inability to describe that same big sky at dusk (although “the first time I saw the pieces stitched together/In a paint-by-numbers dream” is a pretty good stab at it). By the time the album wraps with “So Far to Go,” our protagonist, as the music gains urgency and Kennedy’s vocal pace quickens, is ready to get moving again – “If somebody added up every one of my blinks/And the thoughts that I think…They’d be amazed to see how little I know.” Our hero may love West Texas, but he also realizes there’s a big ol’ world out there, full of stories for him to tell.
Song I Can’t Wait to Hear Live: “Sunset Special” – a cool guitar intro leads into a sun-dappled song about escaping on a train.
Marathon was produced by Davis Naish, engineered by Naish and Drew Kennedy, mixed by Naish and mastered by Chris Henderson. All original songs were written by Kennedy, with co-writing credits going to Naish, Matraca Berg, Jeff Hanna, Bobby Hamrick, Josh Grider, Jared Hampton, Tate Howell and Dave Fenley (“Watch It Shine” was written by Walt Wilkins and Owen Temple and concludes with “History of Marathon,” written and read by Russ Tidwell). All instruments and field recordings come from Kennedy and Naish (bass on “The Hat” by Kody Rakowitz).
Go here to order Marathon (out June 17): https://distrokid.com/hyperfollow/drewkennedy/marathon
Check out tour dates here: https://drewkennedymusic.com/tour