If Billy Joel is "the Piano Man," then Pete Kennedy must be the uncrowned "Guitar Man" of the Washington-Baltimore-Annapolis region.
The simultaneous release of his two latest albums, "Channel 3," and "Shearwater: The Art of the Unplugged Guitar," on Third Floor Records,provides fresh confirmation of Mr. Kennedy's lofty standing.
"Channel 3" is the more personal work of the two, a scrapbook in sound of his experiences as a musician.
"Shearwater," on the other hand, is an essay created in collaboration with some of the area's best musicians.
Mr. Kennedy's band on both albums includes guitarist Tony Rice, Jon Carroll on piano, Jim Robeson on bass and Jerry Douglas on the dobro. Susan Graham White, herself a composer and lyricist of note in the area, is a guest performer for two cuts on "Shearwater."
While both albums show their acoustic or folk roots, "Shearwater" mixes a jazzier sensibility with some "New Age" musical meditation on the second side. The music on this album flows smoothly from one cut to the next. It is an intelligently crafted work that demands its listener stop and take the time to hear what the artists are doing.
"Channel 3" tends gently toward the alternative rock sound, but with each of the tunes wrapped tightly in three- to four-minute cuts so that they can get airplay.
This is unfortunate, as the resulting snippets of music leave the listener feeling as if there should be something more.
Three of the cuts, "Thrilltown," "Film Noir" and "Love and Bullets," are the worst offenders here.
Singing is not one of Mr. Kennedy's major musical gifts, and he very sensibly keeps the vocals just to two songs, the title cut and "Tough Love." But even these turn out to be pretty decent because of his immeasurably greater talents as a composer and instrumentalist.
"Channel 3," in fact, proves especially poignant as the tale of a man who has only videotaped memories of a lover to console him. It's a perfect portrait of how dysfunctional and gadget-ridden modern relations can get.
"Use the Whip," also on "Channel 3," is an interesting work. Largely instrumental, it plays against a background of voices that blur into a constant "Happy Hour" babble that many musicians have to endure as they pay their dues.
This cut may have more to say to people inside the music business than it does to those of us on the outside, but Mr. Kennedy makes music that works on many levels.
Overall, the musical and technical levels of both albums leave me wondering whether Pete Kennedy was born to play the guitar, or the guitar meant just for him. Either way, it was a lucky day for the rest of us when they got together.
Currently promoting his albums in New England, Pete Kennedy returns to Annapolis Oct. 8 to perform on a double bill with fellow guitarist and composer Mack Bailey at the Maryland Inn's King of France Tavern.
There will be two shows, at 7:30 and 10 p.m. The cover charge is $7; reservations are suggested.
2& Information: 263-2641 or 269-0990.