Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Kate Fenner – Middle Voice

Kate Fenner – Middle Voice (Wolfe Island Records)

We don’t hear Kate Fenner’s voice enough. It’s been 10 years since her last album (see my interview here), since which she’s surfaced only as a guest on projects by her former musical partner Chris Brown, with whom she was in the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir and an acclaimed duo who released several underrated classics, including 1999’s Geronimo. She’s also performed with legendary performance artist Joan Jonas in New York City, which Fenner has called home for 23 years now.

Middle Voice is easily the most accomplished of her three solo records to date, largely because of the depth of her songwriting. Fenner was once known primarily as a great interpreter, working with Brown but also for covers of Mary Margaret O’Hara (“Help Me Lift You Up”) and the Rheostatics (“Stolen Car”); her cover of the Tragically Hip’s “Scared” remains sadly unreleased. (She is one of only three musicians to have toured with the Hip as part of the band.) Here, however, a Bob Dylan cover doesn’t hold a candle to her own material.

Fenner’s soulful and rich voice has always been suited to melancholy, and it’s only become more so in middle age, with lyrics that mine that time in one’s life—fertile material for novelists, but less frequently so for songwriters. Fenner has never been a trivial writer, but her pen has become sharper with age. That she remains in such strong vocal shape after throat surgery in 2015 is all the more impressive—her performance on a George Harrison cover (“This is All”) is a total show-stopper.

 (official video for "The Yield" is on Vimeo here)

Fenner has plenty of old friends and peers on board, including Norah Jones and guitarist Bill Frisell. Those marquee names are just part of the background scenery here, however, along with old friends Chris Brown and Tony Scherr and many more; it’s Fenner who is front and centre, where she’s always belonged. (March 23)

Stream: “This Divorce,” “Beatrice,” “This Is All”

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