Kate Fenner’s third and latest album, Middle Voice, is uplifting, yet moody, and upbeat, yet soothing. It could also be seen as a musical version of the book Eat Pray Love. The new release traces a journey marked by loss and profound pain. Despite this, it remains, ultimately, heartening.
This independently released LP sounds very familiar, especially to fans of 1990s female pop rock. The first notes of the opening track, “Two Minds,” make it clear that she would have made a seamless addition to Lilith Fair’s lineup. In a musical landscape that often feels dominated by the young and inexperienced, lyrics that are not about sex, angry breakups, or celebrity feuds, make for a refreshing and meaningful change. The instrumentation on every track is both complex but restrained, with instruments, such as horns, discreetly yet seamlessly introduced, sometimes for mere seconds. Fenner’s vocals, which go from beautiful to superb, throb with raw emotions.
Opening number “Two Minds” immediately introduces listeners to her full vocal capacity. The opening half of the album features songs that start delicately, only to swell into a crashing, exhilarating high. While singing about being lost in “Beatrice” – calling herself “a string without a balloon” – Fenner is accompanied by an upbeat tempo. With her vocals hitting increasingly higher notes, she keeps things light and hopeful despite the sometime heavy lyrics that touch on profound insecurities reflecting, perhaps, the life of a woman who is freed from the prison of self-doubt.
“The Yield” is the LP’s most melancholic offering. Fenner hits some impressive high notes here, cementing her talent as a skilled vocalist, while touching on some of the darkest points. The accompanying video clip (see below) portrays a lonely woman struggling to find herself after an abysmal loss, with the final images showing the beginnings of a new life, beginning by acceptance. Yet again, it’s a combination of looking straight into the darkness while grasping at the light.
Her crystalline voice makes “This Divorce” touching, while her strong delivery makes it clear that this is the anthem of a confident survivor, and not the wailings of a broken woman. Interestingly enough, “A Marriage” isn’t a raucous celebration of this life-changing event. Rather, it welcomes listeners to the various secrets and intimacies of marriage, combining joy with a certain level of restraint. It seems, at times, that the maturity achieved by midlife is reflected in the lack of extreme emotions in Fenner’s album.
The steady intensity of the songs in the second half of Middle Voice comes as a surprise in the case of “Fatal Fire,” a title that sets up the expectation of a dramatic track. While featuring some tension, it is still, overall, a soothing number. It has a seamless addition of gentle horns near the middle and quotes Alexander Pope’s poem “Eloisa to Abelard” in its final moments.
The drum-driven “Hunter” is almost as tense. Despite the underlying anger, it is yet again an inspiring, uplifting, and even comforting number, a balm to the heart of angry listeners. “Passenger” is peacefully beautiful, as if all the experience shared in the previous nine tracks, both painful and joyful, enabled Fenner to take the wheel and help someone else going through terrible heartache. It marks the transition from someone living through pain to someone who has grown stronger and is able to help others, a great note of hope.
The title of the last track, “That Is All” (a George Harrison cover), is quite on point. It comes off as unapologetic in the way Fenner presents herself and her point of view. There is, however, a hint that this is all she has to say but only for now, with the hope of reconnecting with a lover. Perhaps this reconnection will bring to listeners another collection of beautiful songs.
In Middle Voice, Kate Fenner ultimately rejoices in both the positive and negative experiences of the first half of her life. For more information, check out her Facebook page. Stream her albums on Bandcamp.
[vimeo 264298536 w=640 h=360]