Philly cheese steaks and campy '70s musicals are a few of the Kinleys' favorite things.
By Randy Matin
OCTOBER 5, 1998: Following a dietary tip given in a recent women's magazine by her idol Olivia Newton-John, Jennifer Kinley is using decaf tea to wash down her meal, a not-so-healthy Philly cheese steak sandwich. Considering her tall, model's figure, one would never guess that grilled onions, slabs of salty beef and, greasy, processed cheese would ever pass her pearly whites. But it takes a mighty will power to pass on down-home cooking, and the smell of a good cheese steak, especially to this former Philadelphian, is seductive - not unlike the country-meets-Philly soul sounds that have put Kinley and her identical twin sister, Heather, near the top of the country charts.
Since the Kinleys, compared to both the Everly Brothers and the Judds for their seemingly alchemical, familial harmonies and well-crafted tunes, broke with their debut album, Just Between You and Me, in September 1997, it's been non-stop touring for the duo, opening for both Clint Black and Brian White and headlining their own club gigs. But it took both Grease and the Catholic Church to get them there.
At the age of 8, Kinley, who plays piano, became fascinated with Newton-John in the movie Grease and learned all the songs, divvying up the parts with (the four minutes younger) Heather on guitar and low harmonies. "Man I must have seen that movie like 200 times," says Kinley, who will wrap '98 on a country music concert cruise of the Caribbean with Tanya Tucker and Ricochet. That is what really got us singing."
No longer syncing lyrics with Danny and Sandy, the Kinleys are currently in the studio completing their sophomore effort, which they plan to put out at year's end. "The new album is a slight change," Kinley says. "We are going a little more towards our country roots."
After sending the Kinleys' first two singles from Just Between, the self-penned title track and co-producer Tony Haselden's "Please" into the Top Ten, country radio passed on the twins' third single, the rockier "Dance in the Boat."
"Our label wanted to 'go to the fence' with that one. They thought radio would be ready for something different because we'd already had two hits, Kinley says. "So the producers [fattened up the mix] with some far-out guitar, and it sounded more like a rock record then a country record. And it basically bombed."
Encouraged to discard the Nashville party line when it might clash with their own instincts, the Kinleys, in the beginning of their relationship with Sony Music, had label president Tommy Mottola as their guardian angel. "When we were first starting out he was so supportive," Kinley says. "He pushed us to go for it." Once the Kinleys' started charting, Mottola, quickly rolled up his red carpet and vanished, presumable for other affairs of state, leaving the them in the hands of their producers.
"On the new record it seems the label is even more involved," says Kinley, whose next appointment is adding vocals to the seven songs already cut for the new album. "But [even without Mottola] we are not going to give up who we are. It just won't be possible [for radio] to deny that our new songs are country." Two of those are ready for road testing and should be part of the set Friday at Billy Bob's. First to pop as a single will be "Somebody's Out There" from a forthcoming soundtrack to the tv drama "Touched by an Angel." The other is a cover of Emmylou Harris' "If I Can Only Win Your Love," which harkens back to the Kinleys' salad days playing in cover bands. "We are cutting [the Harris song] a little bit different than she did: real country and more acoustic," Kinley says. "And we are hoping to get a [big name] male vocalist to do the harmonies."
If the unnamed guest is unavailable, one substitute Kinley may turn to is her father, Paul, a retired computer systems analyst who helped give his daughters a wide exposure to music and sang with them in the Catholic church as The Kinley Twins. "My father is a terrific singer. He would play the Andrews Sisters for us and sing Bing Crosby tunes when he'd get home from work every day, " says Kinley.
Singing with their father lead to harmonizing as a duo on "Al Albert's Showcase," a weekly tv show (on which Sister Sledge and Teddy Pendergrass also got their starts) that aired each Saturday in Philadelphia. Dressed in matching pink outfits by their mother, Joan (whom Kinley swears should be granted a patent for her Philly cheese steaks), the young twins put in 55 performances on the show over a five-year stretch.
"That is when we fell in love with the Everly Brothers and started copying their harmonies," says Kinley who, singing a little higher then her sister, took the Phil Everly parts.
A growing fascination with the Everlys culminated in a family vacation to Nashville when Heather and Jennifer were 15. While there, a visit to the Grand Ole Opry was all it took for the girls to realize, "Hey. We can do this," says Kinley. "We set our sights on moving to Nashville as soon as we finished high school."
No overnight success, the Kinleys spent seven years tending bar by night and writing songs by day until the right producer and right song came along that would solidify their musical identity. Finally the connection was made with a demo for "Just Between You and Me," co-written with Russ and Debbie Zavitson and a deal was struck with Epic Nashville (a Sony Music affiliate).
Filtered through Philly soul and Catholicism, the Kinleys emerged with their own take on the Everlys' harmonies and churchy r&b-meets-country roots, drawing the inevitable comparisons to the Judds.
Taking the compliment, Kinley says, "We love the Judds because they are country and at the same time they rock. And they have an r&b feel. 'Talk to Me' and 'Takin' Our Sweet Time' probably have the most r&b flavor. 'Just Between You and Me' [with Heather's husky, Wynonna-like vocal] is the one that people have called Judds-sounding."
Others hear traces of Sheryl Crow in "(Ooh, Aha) Crazy Kind of Love Thing" and a whole range of influences from the Indigo Girls to Hall & Oates to Tammy Wynette and others - except perhaps Olivia Newton-John in her Grease days. "We get requests all the time to do songs from Grease. We do 'em while we are goofing around," says Kinley, embarrassed by her affection for the schmaltzy show tunes she embraced as a child, "but never, never, never on stage."
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