Few performers bring such a complete package to bear like Liz Kennedy. She’s hitting her stride in a career that has already attracted considerable notice thanks to her dramatic and moving vocals coupled along with an outstanding talent for writing meaningful lyrical content and layered musical compositions. Her vision for the music she wants to release reaches far beyond hitting some customary marks and counting on nostalgia to carry the day. Instead, Liz Kennedy repurposes traditional instruments and formulas to new ends while still managing to invoke entertaining echoes of their history.
Her material suggests a sharply personal edge to what she does, but we are also clearly in the hands of an imaginative writer and performer, so we should never assume the album’s songwriting is strictly confessional. She makes it real, however, throughout each of the album’s twelve songs and it results in Hike Up Your Socks easily ranking among the year’s best efforts.
“Everyone Knows How It Goes” showcases Taj Mahal’s vocals alongside Kennedy’s and they certainly make for an interesting pair. Mahal’s voice is full of the miles he’s logged as one of the pre-eminent musical talents to emerge from 20th century American music, but retains the same undeniable musicality that’s been its calling card since his debut. It provides Kennedy’s voice with a weathered, unbowed counterpoint and his banjo playing pairs up equally well with the blues flourishes defining so much of its arrangement. “Attention” is a much more physical, raucous number though its plays like a lesser cluttered cousin of the opening number. There’s a white-hot focus powering tunes like this that’s more relaxed in performances like we hear with the opener. “Say The Words” shows a more mainstream side to Kennedy’s music, but she keeps things honest and never approaches these sort of moments with craven, heavy-handed invocations of formula. They still sound like the sincerest expressions of her talent, she has just embedded them in more melodic and accessible vehicles than she might have otherwise chosen. Call it an artist who follows their own muse, however wayward it may be.
The title song is quite an impressive achievement. There’s no lack of musical merit on Hike Up Your Socks, but the title cut is a moment when you sense Kennedy reaches for something a little larger in scope than the average songs and clearing that bar with room to spare. There’s thoughtful guitar, inventive percussion touches, and even woodwinds helping to flesh this song and it has an inspired jaunt pushing it along that will take listeners on a memorable ride. Organ and piano make for a great tandem on “Heart Test” and the former plays off some particularly fiery guitar playing. Kennedy responds with an equally impassioned vocal that spares nothing and completes the song in the best possible way. “On the Water” closes Hike Up Your Socks on a predictably elegiac note, but there’s no question that Kennedy goes deep for this final outing and offers up reams of her heart to get this last moment over with the audience. It’s a moving and dramatic success. Hike Up Your Socks is definitely adult listening and Liz Kennedy has more personal style in one song than a lot of performers muster over decades long careers.