In the early 1980s, an all-female quartet called Calamity Jane scored four minor hits on the country charts, including covers of Patsy Cline and Beatles songs. When CJ split, two of its members kept on keeping on in Nashville, putting their efforts into songwriting, invariably with one or two other collaborators. It paid off for Mary Ann Kennedy and Pam Rose: between 1983 and 1987, six of their songs went Top 10 country (including two that made #1), performed by the likes of Janie Fricke, Lee Greenwood, Crystal Gayle, and Restless Heart–yes, they co-wrote “I’ll Still Be Loving You.”
At the end of the decade, Kennedy and Rose signed to PANGÆA Records, a label formed by Sting and distributed through I.R.S. Records (which I just learned was co-founded by Stewart Copeland’s brother Miles). They recorded ten songs they’d co-written (mostly with Pat Bunch) between 1984 and 1988, and along with two short instrumental interludes, released the set as hai ku.
Being on a subsidiary of a minor label may have made it doubly hard to get traction; hai ku never charted. The performances defy easy classification, too–while Kennedy Rose obviously have their roots in country music, there’s a folk/pop sheen that makes one wonder how it would be best promoted.
I think Kennedy Rose came to my attention via some combination of a blurb in Rolling Stone magazine and the video for first single “Love Like This” on VH-1. When this occurred exactly is lost to me now, but I became quickly interested in tracking the CD down. It took a while–Record Service in Champaign didn’t seem to carry it. The album has a 1989 date on it, but it sticks in my mind that I purchased it the following year, finally discovering it in a record store inside the Chicago Loop. hai ku got plenty of play in my apartment, but clearly not much elsewhere. Finding its tracks on YouTube is possible these days though many are barely viewed. I’m here today to see if that can be rectified a little.
It’s a shame that the catchy “Love Like This” never caught on. Carlene Carter’s version was the lead single from 1995’s Little Acts of Treason, but even she couldn’t break through with it, reaching only #70 country.
The overarching theme of the album is that of the euphoria one feels being in love with another. The loping “After Your Arms” certainly mines that vein well.
I really like the way “Love Is the Healer” builds.
“Born to Give My Love” was later covered by Martina McBride and the Forester Sisters. It’s a gorgeous, gentle song. I apologize, though, for making you suffer through clips from a Hallmark Christmas movie to hear it.
One of my favorites on the disk is the driving “Nightline,” which cuts against the other tracks in that our narrator is lusting for someone she shouldn’t but can’t help continue pursuing.
Kennedy Rose released a second album in 1994, which I also picked up. Alas, Walk the Line suffered a similar commercial fate. Highlights included “Safe in the Arms of Love,” later a Top 10 country hit by the aforementioned McBride.
If you poke around a little on YouTube, you can find clips of Kennedy Rose’s appearance in support of hai ku on Austin City Limits. As on the album, they share singing duties, harmonizing beautifully. Mary Ann Kennedy shows her versatility in playing percussion and mandolin, while Pam Rose ably handles guitar work. The videos are worth seeking out, even if that appearance didn’t help them launch. I’m glad for the songwriting success Kennedy and Rose experienced–just wish that somehow hai ku had been a bigger thing.