When I first heard Middle Voice (2017), the recently-released album by NYC-based musician Kate Fenner, I was immediately struck by how much the album dealt with themes of loss, rebuilding, reflection, and identity. Coupled with Kate Fenner's unique voice, the end-result is emotional but measured, rich in thought but straightforward in delivery; the album is soulful, heartfelt, and really beautiful. And, though it may not be something you will put on everyday, it's definitely worth a listen.
Clearly, the record comes from a personal place and is very much about resolving something emotionally burdensome. "I recorded the bed tracks for this album after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and slated for surgery to remove it. This diagnosis itself came after a fallow period of illness and getting sober(!). I had started to write again, and wanted to capture my voice on tape in the event that something went awry in the surgery..."
Interestingly enough, the contents of the album don't deal with Fenner's illness, as one may assume by default. Instead, it deals with life in general, and her life in particular. "Passenger" is a great track that describes what it's like to come along for a ride, but it's deeper than that: "The question hidden by the answer, I know exactly how you feel...don't fret, I'll take the wheel." It's a metaphor for ― take your pic.
"The Yield" is a very different track, dealing with loss and regret: "But I'll be here through the winter snow, and I'll be here when the garden grows again, but I don't want anyone to know, I didn't give you all I had, no one should have treated you so badly." The loss of her companion is something that Fenner is clearly dealing with; the song contains an honest and frank story that is personal and important to her, and it's this honesty that makes the album a true piece of art.
Produced by Tony Scherr, most of the songs on Middle Voice were written by Fenner, with the exception of two: "You're a Big Girl" by Bob Dylan and "That is All" by George Harrison. The 11-track album features Kate Fenner on vocals and guitar; Tony Scherr on guitars and bass; Kenny Wolleson and Shawn Pelton on drums; Norah Jones and Jason Moran on piano; Chris Brown on organ, and Bill Frisell on guitar. The cover art was made by Angelica Zollo.
Overall, Middle Voice is an unusual and beautifully frank album about spiritual and emotional growth that stems from formative experiences that can range from a blessing to a loss to an illness.
Note* Album provided for objective review by our partners.