The Kendalls

Love Is a Long Hard Road

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Recorded in the late '80s, Love Is a Long Hard Road is the first true showcase for Jeannie Kendall's solo talents. The Kendalls' first country chart hits came as early as the 1970s, and crossed over finally in 1978 with "Sweet Desire." But it wasn't until almost a decade later that Royce Kendall, Jeannie's father, began to step more firmly into the harmony role, though still appearing solo on the occasional bridge. Produced by Buddy Killen, this set accents the truly remarkable strengths of the Kendalls as a unique and gifted country duo. And the word "country" is the operative one here. There is nothing remotely urban about the Kendalls. Just one listen to the title track -- with its cascading fiddles, phased steel guitars, and ringing Telecasters -- is evidence there. But there's no attempt to make Jeannie's voice anything other than it is: a high lonesome honky tonk voice that has a beautiful range and drips emotion. The duo's reading of Boudleaux Bryant's "Bye Bye Love" (which worked so well for the Everly Brothers) is a delight here, full of dark irony, heartache, and winsome charm. Kevin Welch's "I'd Rather Dance With You" is a far cry from his later Americana version, and Harlan Howard's "Heartaches By the Number," made immortal by Ray Price, is treated as the swinging honky tonk number it is. Jeannie's voice is somewhere between Loretta Lynn's and Patsy Cline's; it's smooth, full, reedy, and almost grainy at the same time. Royce takes a beautiful tenor harmony here, punching the syllables at the end of his lines. The band swings hard in full barroom flush. This is followed by Lee Ross' "Curtain in the Window," given a very empathetic treatment before the whole album just cracks open with Buck Owens' lonely weeper, "Crying Time." The beautiful piano work and orchestration carry the duet vocal over the arrangement and into the emotion of the melody. There are a couple of bonus tracks here, such as "Temporarily Out of Order," a single from 1989, and the disc closes with Bob McDill's "Just Like Real People," an anthem that testifies that no matter how hard the road of love is, it's worth walking and stumbling upon. This is as worthy a reissue as exists in the country world, and a stellar example that true-to-the-roots country music still existed during the time period.

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