The fifth studio album from singer/songwriter Liz Kennedy is a twelve song collection that has her art taking the next major steps in its development and also finds her pairing up with the powerhouse living legend Taj Mahal on a number of cuts. Hike Up Your Socks certainly recalls the Americana/roots music influence that defines much of her recorded output, but she manifests a decidedly commercial edge on some tunes as well. It’s not commercial in the usual sense, however. Few songwriters of any stripe could so readily write and perform commercially viable fare but Kennedy straddles that line with nary a misstep. There’s an assortment of instrumentation employed to make this outing work, but it all falls within the wheelhouse of roots music and the center always remains Kennedy’s strong, often atmospheric voice. Hike Up Your Socks is a formidable release from an impressive singer/songwriter.
Taj Mahal duets with Kennedy on the first song “Everyone Knows How It Goes”. The song’s hard won wisdom isn’t presented in any sort of heavy handed way, but the generous blues influence filling the song certainly gives the sentiments a deeper glow. There’s some slide guitar added to the song that makes for a nice tandem with the piano playing. Mahal’s voice reflects his long road in modern music but it is informed by genuine warmth and understanding of music that belongs to him alone. The contrast between their voices is notable, but it ends up making the song a more complete listening experience. “Say the Words” shows off some of the aforementioned mainstream sound that finds its way into Kennedy’s performance, but it should be pointed out once again how she manages to hit those notes without ever pandering or compromising her overall artistry. Taj Mahal’s blues harmonica wail adds an even more distinctive touch to the shadowy, 3am swing of “Love Gave Me Away”, but the mood is sweetened some by some well placed backing vocals.
“Not Ready” is an aching foray into blues territory with evocatively recorded instrumentation and a thoughtful yet soulful vocal from Kennedy. The haunted feeling enveloping this track is well nigh inescapable, but it’s never an oppressive or despairing listening experience. The album’s title track defies neat and tidy categorization. Kennedy’s writing manages to touch on a few bases with this song – there’s no denying the memorable melodies, the jazzy lilt powering the tempo, and the rustic quality of its acoustic bent. Bringing woodwinds into the picture changes the complexion of the song from their first note and makes this a notable different effort from other songs on Hike Up Your Socks. “Heart Test” maintains a narrower line of musical attack and the R&B influence casting a shadow over the song makes it an even more enjoyable experience. Kennedy concludes the album with “On the Water” and it’s gorgeous, wide screen pop balladry with a masterful vocalist unwinding this yearning and melancholy in the song’s lyrics. It’s a wrenching finale for a recording that will move anyone who comes into contact with it – Liz Kennedy has, unquestionably, hit a new peak in her career and deserves widespread attention.