It's pretty obvious that Maura and Pete Kennedy are disciples of John, Paul, George, and Ringo. They're also followers of the Book of Byrds. So, it's with tongues placed firmly in cheek that they bill their new album, Evolver, as "a new kind of music from the Kennedys." Truth is, there's nothing at all new about Evolver, or the Kennedys for that matter; this is retro pop played by a couple of starry-eyed folkies blinded by the paisley-hued light. It's also a celebration of the jangly 12-string sound of the Rickenbacker. And it's occasionally a glorious salute to pop . . . the kind of pop made before Britney, Christine, and Backstreet turned it into a one-hit career forum.
Evolver (one letter away from -- get it? -- the Beatles' own artistic evolution Revolver) slides between Maura's shiny and pristine radio pop and husband Pete's more adult aspirations. The balance suits the style. Her airy voice lends itself well to his often-restrained guitar playing. They may not be aiming to be a contemporary version of Richard and Linda Thompson -- and such a hefty comparison does neither team any justice -- but the slight edge and dichotomy certainly invites it.
Yet the Kennedys aren't visionaries the way the Thompsons were. They're safe, smart purveyors of classic pop. They even enlist two generations of classic popsters -- the Cowsills' Susan Cowsill and the Bangles' Vicki Peterson -- to assist in their simple and single-minded quest of bringing jingle jangle into the 21st century. The monster hook that powers "Pick You Up" is reason enough to hear Evolver. But this fourth album from the Washington, D.C. duo also provides plenty of other pop thrills borrowed from the past, including their own (he's a former Nanci Griffith sideman who brought his wife on board after co-worker Iris DeMent's solo career took off). The slippery "Strangers" is so mindlessly cheery that it's quite easy to overlook the fact that the song is about extraterrestrial activity in the desert (the Kennedys even recorded the tune in a motel room in Roswell, New Mexico, ground zero for such celestial activity). And that's Evolver's, and retro pop's, testament: light on substance, big on hooks. -- Michael Gallucci