“I’m not big on preaching, God knows we have enough of that now,” Kennedy sings, setting the tone on the opening track “Age and Color.” The song is a deceptively up-tempo meditation on time and age, swinging through autumnal metaphors on an easy guitar riff. He sticks with the nature metaphors on “Rose of Jericho,” a pretty ballad co-written by the iconic Lori McKenna. It is a pretty ballad about stagnation and missing out on chances due to lack of impetus and ambition, one that lingers long in a listeners mind. (Rose of Jericho is a plant native to the desert that lies dormant until it comes across water, then it blooms). Wide Listener is an album that pays homage to the small moments that lie of the heart of larger stories. “Rose of Jericho” stifles its characters in a small home. “Gainesville” starts at a restaurant table at closing time, then opens itself up to locations across the country. “Jackson Square” looks at the hard lives of the homeless in a single city block. “Life is hard, life ain’t fair, life goes on in Jackson Square,” he observes softly as “Oscar Interiano pounds a gospel inspire melody on the Hammond B3. “Hello Goodbye” is a soft, jazz inflected ballad that finds two people gathered in a bedroom far past the point when their relationship should have ended. On Wide Listener, Kennedy finds quite spaces in the littlest of moments, and builds his stories there.
Wide Listener is that rare album that is as artistic as it is accessible. In the 1980’s it would have found a place on the radio, being played between The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Lacy J. Dalton. It will likely find the same audience today. This is unfortunate, because he combines a lyrical complexity that audiences appear to be craving with bright, radio friendly arrangements. It is the sort of album that could shake up mainstream radio and possibly send country music spinning off in a whole new direction, and, in a better world it would have a chance to do so. However, in this world it is one of those album that will fight its way through the maze of music on the internet. Here’s hoping it finds the audience it deserves.