new originals cvrJohn Kennedy and the New Originals - John Kennedy and the New Originals (Foghorn/MGM)

Brisbane-raised English expatriate John Kennedy patented the Urban and Western genre after he transplanted himself to Sydney 40-something years ago and found underground success. It’s been a long (and winding) road since.

There’s been a decade living overseas in Los Angeles, Berlin, London, Holland and Hong Kong. Kennedy on paper’s had what appears to be a revolving cast of backing bands - J.F.K. And The Cuban Crisis, John Kennedy And The Honeymooners, John Kennedy's '68 Comeback Special and John Kennedy's Love Gone Wrong.

Reality is that there’s been an intermingling of players in those bands and the line-up’s been stable in recent years, but perseverance has been a by-word.

“John Kennedy and the New Originals” is Kennedy’s farewell to Australia album before he heads off to make a new life in Spain and despite a fraught gestation, it’s one of the best long-players in a hefty back catalogue.

His band - it’s the same crew who made up the long-running John Kennedy's '68 Comeback Special – plays like the seasoned combination they are. The songs are strong and Kennedy is at the peak of his considerable vocal powers.

The only sour note is that JFK is moving to Spain in June and this will be his last record for the foreseeable future.

So, Urban and Western? Yes - but not only. Mostly rocking pop with the odd country inflection. There are some Velvets references and some Stones. One song even alludes to Kraut rock. And there are nods to the Beatles (hence the reference in the review’s intro.)

There’s also a lot of co-producer and bassist Phil Hall in this record - especially in the arrangements. The liner notes are enlightening. As for the others: Peter Timmerman is one of the best keepers of a beat in Sydney. He’s also a survivor from the earlier Kennedy band Love Gone Wrong.

Murray Cook brings his guitar collection and the colour, with his occasional stand-in, Matt Galvin, throwing in some sharp licks and leads as well. As easy as it is to reduce it to a cliché, it’s an album that’s really the sum of its parts.    

“Discover Me” is the bright rock-pop opener with its bubbling bass-line and sparkling guitar punctuation.  “A Man After My Own Heart” takes it back to country, while the droll but irresistibly upbeat “It’s Good To Be Here” grows with every play.

Listen hard and you will believe “A Different Story” should have been on “Loaded”. “A Stones Throwaway” is best listened to when you're sitting there in your silk upholstered chair, talking to some rich folk that you know. It's only (country) rock and roll but I like it.  

“Reasonable Working Order” brings the hard rock edge with its multitracked guitars and sounds huge. “OK, Boomer” ups the sonic ante with dynamics par excellence…and Cook’s guitar cooks (sorry). Speaking of, Muzz and John have been trading licks since a run of COVID lockdown shows, so you know they click.

And speaking of the plague, every performer and band has a story and “John Kennedy and the New Originals” is no exception. It involves crushing deadlines, juggling another record (the superb “Raining Treasure vol 2”), Murray undergoing open heart surgery and Zen Studio engineer Geoff Lee having a heart attack.  

Lovers of lyrics will find plenty to dig in Kennedy’s ruminations on self-worth, mortality - the ace “Glass Half Full We’re All Going to Die!”) - and ageing, but don’t let any of that subject matter bring you down. “John Kennedy and the New Originals” is ultimately a playful and uplifting record that rewards constant play.

It's not going to be joining John's Bandcamp where his back catalogue is going for a spell, so you can fulfill your need for almost instant self gratification at Redeye Records. Or buy it at the Sydney album launch at Petersham Bowling Club on Friday, March 17. Tickets here.


Buy it at the Sydney album launch at Petersham Bowling Club on Friday, March 17. Tickets here.