What a Way to Go
If Merle Haggard and John Anderson somehow had a son, chances are he’d be Ray Kennedy. A former recording engineer and occasional songwriter for the likes of David Allan Coe and Charley Pride, Kennedy is one of the big country surprises of the year, turning out a stunning debut album for which he not only wrote the songs but played every instrument except steel guitar. Kennedy weds a Haggard-like hangdog baritone with Anderson’s off-the-wall humor (”I got tongue tied by a teacher in Tallahassee/I got french fried by a waitress in Idaho”), and his songs feature the kind of bluesy, stinging guitar work and pithy songs of wronged romance that Haggard offered in the late ’70s. Yet Kennedy can be more of a bad boy — and a tease — than either of his influences. ”I Like the Way It Feels,” for example, chugs along with an insinuating, rhythmic melody, its lyrics pumped up by adrenaline and the vague promise of an encounter of the sexual kind. Kennedy may be too real for Nashville, but for the rest of us, What a Way to Go about says it all.