Bobby's One Hit Wonders, Volume 25: The Kinleys "Please"

This week Bobby takes a look at The Kinleys, who came out in 1997, one of the most unique years in Country music's history with a lot of diversity of sounds and voices. Take a look at the story of this identical twin duo.

Enter The Kinleys. Identical twin sisters Heather and Jennifer, both natives of Pennsylvania, began singing at an early age, taking influence from the Judds and the Everly Brothers. By age 12, they were singing on the local TV show Al Alberts' Showcase. They both moved to Nashville at age 19 and bounced around until Epic picked them up in 1997. "Please," their debut single for Epic, went to #7 and kicked off their gold-certified debut album Just Between You and Me. "Please" was more than a solid introduction to the duo. Two throaty and indeed, Wynonna-esque voices; a sturdy production that never gets in the way; a fine melody with a few nonstandard chord patterns; and a great plea to give a fading love one more chance: "I'll do anything if it'll bring our hearts together / Stand and fight or get down on my knees / We can fix what's wrong and just go on in love forever / Baby, I'll be beggin' please." 

And on the August 23, 1997 charts (the week it made Top 40), it stood out in a surprisingly varied mix, even just focusing on the females. Chely Wright, who has been covered in this column previously, made her first Top 40 bow after only three albums with the insistent "Shut Up and Drive"; Lila McCann entered for the first time with the smart "Down Came a Blackbird" (by far her best song); Reba was finishing up a run with the surprisingly slick but still enjoyable "I'd Rather Ride Around with You"; Lorrie Morgan, the poppiest of the early 90s ladies, was starting to fit right back in momentarily with "Go Away"; while Lee Ann Womack was trying a far more neo-trad bent on "The Fool" a good three years before abandoning all pretense and going fully pop with the cold, calculated "I Hope You Dance". I see 1997 as a transitory year: with Shania and John Michael both starting to cool their heels for a bit, a few more traditional-leaning acts were able to sneak their way in (Michael Peterson, anyone?), and a musical variety that was sorely lacking in 1996 was present. All in all, the charts were interesting, often in good ways, for most of 1997 before the great Pop-ification of 1998 swept through. (Interestingly, it was this exact same musical climate that gave us the musical greatness of the Dixie Chicks.)

And the Kinleys had a pop sheen to them, but it was counterbalanced by an earthiness in both of their voices. Followup "Just Between You and Me" had a few acoustic guitar and Dobro runs to add some country underpinnings and a little more of a pulse than "Please", and it worked well enough to get the song to #12. (In fact, I could totally see the Judds recording this song if it had existed in 1985.) But somehow, despite a Top New Vocal Duo or Group win from the ACM's, the momentum faded fast: neither "Dance in the Boat" nor "You Make It Seem So Easy" made Top 40. However, they did notch a Top 20 with "Somebody's Out There Watching", a soulful, subtly motivational song about angels from Touched by an Angel: The Album, a soundtrack to the CBS drama of the same name which featured a wide cast ranging from Amy Grant to Della Reese to Bob Dylan.

The semi-success of "Somebody's Out There Watching" should've provided momentum for the lead-off to their second album, but somehow, "My Heart Is Still Beating" stalled out at #63. And I don't know why — its lyrics are a great, fresh take on a breakup ("It's been exactly one year since you packed your things and went away / I was so obsessed with you…My heart is still beating, and I am still breathing / So if I'm still livin' / Then I'm still lovin' you."), its melody beautiful and superbly harmonized, its production inobtrusive. Still, it allowed the duo time to re-tool what would ultimately be their final Epic album, II. The underrated Radney Foster was brought in to serve as co-producer for the first half of the album, with original production team Tony Haselden and Russ Zavitson (who also helmed the first two albums of The Wilkinsons) staying for the rest of the album, and "My Heart Is Still Beating" did not make the cut (although "Somebody's Out There Watching" did).

Two songs from II barely made top 40. First was "She Ain't the Girl for You," another acoustic guitar and Dobro-heavy number with a pulsating beat and a great lyric about a man who refuses to ditch a girl who isn't the one for him ("She makes you cry and you still stay / Why can't you just walk away?"). Next was "I'm In," the latter of which was originally recorded by Foster himself on his 1998 album See What You Want to See. And if that title seems familiar, the song was later covered by Keith Urban, who had previously plucked "Raining on Sunday" off the same album. The Kinleys' take on the song has its own feel, with a heavy snare beat and more focus on vocal harmony, compared to Urban's trademark country-pop guitar wizardry. Both are very different, yet equally satisfying, on Radney's superb lyrics. "You're Still Here" closed off the album, but it did not chart. I have to wonder if these songs' lack of success was more due to 2000 being a fairly bland, poppy year in country music, or due more to Epic Records' diminishig returns at the time — the closest they'd had to a success that year was the execrably sappy "One Voice" from 12-year-old Billy Gilman, and it would be two more years until they made the almost anachronistically neo-traditionalist Brad Martin into a possible future candidate for this column.

Whatever the case, the Kinleys quit Epic becuase, according to a January 2013 article in Country Weekly, neither of them enjoyed being on the road. They released one album called All in the Familythat came and went in the blink of an eye, and both returned to civilian life. Notably, Jennifer is a member of a Nashville church whose song leader is Lionel Cartwright, an extremely underrated act from the late 80s-early 90s. So if anything, The Kinleys make for a good game of "six degrees of separation." 

The Kinleys are, once again, an act whose lack of success baffles me. Their musical identity was evident right out of the box: strong voices with lots of focus on harmony, sturdy songwriting chops, and production that was slick enough to please the pop crowd but traditional-leaning enough to please the country crowd. One could say those terms could also describe the Dixie Chicks, whose five years of success were great, but the Kinleys clearly had enough of a different take not to feel like a clone. But given the Kinleys' stated displeasure with life on the road, maybe it's for the better that they quit while they were ahead creatively, if not commercially.