Liz Kennedy – Hike Up Your Socks
Hike Up Your Socks is the fifth album from talented singer/songwriter Liz Kennedy and deserves a place among her best recordings. It may, indeed, be her finest collection yet. The dozen songs filling out its running order possess impressive musical reach and never content themselves with pursuing the lowest common denominator. Kennedy is fearless about incorporating a variety of instruments into the songwriting mix and the decision results in these fine songs becoming even more layered and rewarding. She is accompanied by an excellent musical cast who ably assist her in realizing the sound she hears in her head while longtime producer Joel Jaffe helms another effort for an artist he’s help nurture from the beginning. The final ingredient in its success is the inclusion of guest star Taj Mahal on a number of cuts – Mahal doesn’t chew up musical scenery but, instead, plays very much as a band member and seeks to integrate himself with the sound of each song. Hike Up Your Socks is overflowing with vibrant colors and sounds.
Hike Up Your Socks opens with “Everyone Knows How It Goes” and this duet is a near ideal way to see the album off. Not that Kennedy needed it, but Taj Mahal appearing on your album confers a certain amount of legitimacy on you as a musical performer that you didn’t have before – it’s a measure of the level of respect he commands. Both voices sound at home working together and in the bluesy arrangement driving the song along. Kennedy clearly isn’t shy about using an assortment of instruments to get her point across as this track clearly bears out. Things are cut a little closer to the bone on “Attention”. It’s certainly a much more assertive personal statement than the opener and her fiery singing elevates the words to testimony. The blues has been a guiding impulse of the first two songs, but Kennedy shifts gears with “Say the Words” and explores more solidly singer/songwriter or pop ballad territory with this performance. These sort of moves are easy for Kennedy, remarkably so, as when many performers indulge themselves with pop, they often fall prey to formula and can’t maintain a balance between substance and commercial appeal. Kennedy has no trouble with it – if anything, the sweetened melodic strengths help get over complicated adult narratives about love, loss, growth, and survival.
“Not Ready” features some memorable accordion playing that gives its mournful mood a slightly wistful quality and a controlled, profoundly emotional singing performance from Kennedy. “Hike Up Your Socks” carries itself off as a light shuffle and has the right amount of charisma to help get across the song’s cleverly posed message. Backing vocals are an important part of what makes Hike Up Your Socks work so well, but Kennedy doesn’t employ them indiscriminately. They are used infrequently during this track and that makes their appearance all the more effective. “The Best Worst Times:” takes on a number of musical changes and the band pulls them off without a hitch, but Kennedy’s quirky vocal, brimming over with character and wonderful phrasing, matches it all and gives one of her best performances on the album. Hike Up Your Socks finishes up with “On the Water” – it’s a final effort in the pop vein that puts a rather elegant exclamation point on the album without belaboring it with some unwieldy finale. Liz Kennedy proves to have quite a steady artistic hand throughout Hike Up Your Socks and it results in one of the best efforts in her career.