Review Summary: An emotionally charged album from the Canadian singer.
There could be a thousand reasons why somebody like the Canadian singer Kate Fenner would use the term Middle Voice to name their album. But with Fenner it was an extremely serious one. Before she started recording this, her third album, she was diagnosed with thyroid gland cancer. Not wanting to be just a subject that caught a potentially terminal disease, she obviously wanted to do some more songwriting, playing and singing. So she came up with this album and luckily, got rid of her lines.
Mentioning that somebody is up to their third album can signify that the artist might have started only a few years back. But, Fenner has been around for quite a while, playing and recording previously with Bourbon Tabernacle Choir and as a duo with Chris Brown (who also plays on this album too), and who has played in the live formation of Tragically Hip and also as support to blues legend BB King.
That is certainly one of the reasons why names like Bill Frisell and Norah Jones appear among the credited musicians. The thing though is that Fenner does not simply rely on the names that have surrounded her in the studio but what she, as a songwriter and singer can produce in the studio. To say that the songs (and interpretations) on this album would be an understatement, particularly, if you only consider the situation in which Fenner was recording it.
That intensity has certainly produced some excellent musical highlights on Middle Voice. Some critics have said that Fenner has a “Joni Mitchell-ish” sound. That would be true if you take the emotional element into the count, which sometimes could be compared to someone like Van Morrison on the male side of the spectrum, but Fenner sings in a bit lower register than Mitchell, a bit closer to Ms. Jones who can be heard here only as a piano player.
Besides her vocal capabilities, Fenner exceeds as a songwriter too, with songs that contain direct personal elements like “This Divorce” and “Beatrice” standing out. Although the material on Middle Voice is strong throughout, the true peak comes with Fenner’s version of Dylan’s “You’re A Big Girl Now” with is followed by the two strongest tracks here, “Fatal Fire” and “Hunter”.
Put the guest artists list in the back of your mind for this one, it is Kate Fenner that shines on Middle Voice.