Review: ‘Middle Voice’ by Kate Fenner an Honest Account of Life After 40




By DONNA BALANCIA

Middle Voice is an appropriately named collection of songs that deals with many of life’s concerns after the 30s and the 40s are over. While it’s comforting to know it’s Kate Fenner who is conveying these warnings, these songs need to be heeded.

Canadian by birth but New Yorker by choice, Fenner has endured mostly ups in the ups and downs of the music business. It’s the personal life that echoes truth in her writing.

It’s not easy maturing and Fenner takes the time to reflect upon this middle time of life, idling between the past that we never realized was close to perfect, and a future that is perfectly unpredictable and equally unnerving.

Kate Fenner
Kate Fenner – Photo courtesy of Kate Fenner

There are No Guarantees in Life

By the time our Middle Voice is heard we’ve hurt and been hurt, we’ve loved and liked and some have left. There’s an ambivalence towards the aching flat everyday-ness of marriage, and with it, there is “no guarantee” Fenner says throughout but pointedly in the song, “A Marriage.”

There’s an empty clarity to Fenner’s songs, there’s no resounding chorus, no special instrumentation to save the day. The songs are pure from the heart and some of them are kindly but honestly straightforward, like “Song and Dance Man.” Fenner gets major league accompaniment on the songs with Norah Jones on piano on songs like “Beatrice,” “You’re a Big Girl Now” and “Passenger.”

Fenner’s approach to music is a lot like her approach to life. She is a minimalist, living an unfettered style and appreciating everything around her. The album Middle Voice was produced with longtime collaborator Tony Scherr with help from a range of other music legends including Bill Frisell, Norah Jones, Kenny Wolleson and Shawn Pelton on drums, Jason Moran on piano and Chris Brown on organ.

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Fenner Guides Through Reflection

But there’s an underlying reason for all this reflective mood.

“I recorded the bed tracks for this album after being diagnosed with thyroid cancer and slated for surgery to remove it,” Fenner recalled. “The 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 (very unlikely, but a good excuse to record).

“Tony Scherr, my old friend, stepped up immediately,” she said. “We recorded all the beds in less than three weeks in short 3-hour sessions while my son was in school. We later added overdubs and a couple of newer songs once my voice healed.”

Middle Voice was produced by Scherr at his house in New York City. The album was mixed by Scherr with Teddy Kumpel at Ted’s house in New York City. Horns were recorded by Scotty Hard, assisted by Connor Schultze, at Duro of Brooklyn. The album was mastered by Gene Paul at G&J Audio. Photo by Angelica Zollo, cover graphics by Melissa Braxton for 212box

Release Name: Middle Voice
Label: independent
Producer: Tony Scherr

Track List:

1. Two Minds
2. This Divorce
3. Beatrice
4. The Yield
5. A Marriage
6. Song and Dance
7. You’re a Big Girl Now
8. Fatal Fire
9. Hunter
10. Passenger
11. That is All

Musicians:
Kate Fenner: vocals, guitar
Tony Scherr: guitars, bass

Guests:
Kenny Wolleson: drums
Shawn Pelton: drums
Norah Jones: piano
Jason Moran: piano
Chris Brown: organ
Bill Frisell: guitar