Album Review: Dermot Kennedy - 'Without Fear'
Dermot Kennedy has gone from busking on the streets of Dublin to selling out shows across the world, and all the while he’s been building himself a fanbase so vast that it’s almost a shock that his debut album has only just been released. It would be easy to lump Dermot in with the many other acoustic songsmiths that emerge on Spotify every months, but he is something so different. Hip hop influences and a collaboration EP with Kanye West & Jay Z producer Mike Dean has seen him hone his style into something much more modern and beautifully unique. After pushing the release date back a week to make "sure everything’s perfect”, Dermot kept his loyal fans waiting, but I’m sure I speak for every single one of them when I say it was certainly worth it.
Album opener ‘An Evening I Will Not Forget’ is one of the first songs Dermot released on Spotify back in 2015. There have been a few different versions of it over the years, but this is by far the most polished and triumphant. Kennedy’s stunning lyrics are backed by a gentle piano and a slowly building drum beat while his hip hop influences start to creep in with hints of tiny electronic echoes. The tone has been set, and the emotional rollercoaster begins.
‘Power Over Me’ and ‘Outnumbered’ are two of Dermot’s most recently released singles, and their arena ready chorus’ have seen them gain a lot of radio play and commercial success. ‘Power Over Me’ has earned its place on this album and proves a firm favourite live. Following the high is another heartfelt ballad, ‘What Have I Done’. Try as you might, you simply can’t listen to this song in the background of anything. It is the kind of song that stops you in your tracks and forces you to feel every word. The marching band style drums drive the song forward until the end leads us perfectly into the hip-hop infused beauty, ‘Moments Passed’. Unlike ‘An Evening I Will Not Forget’, this older release remains unchanged for the album, and rightly so. There’s simply nothing that could be improved upon, as Dermot’s heartbroken lyrics are laced with electronic twitches and melancholic echoes.
Teasing his fans with a tiny snippet of the track a few weeks ago, Dermot revealed that The Corner is the ‘most honest’ song he’s ever written, and you can feel that from the first note. This song is a whole journey is just three minutes - opening with just vocals and a few picks of acoustic guitar then slowly building, as many of his tracks do, to a full band before ending as it started, with nothing but Dermot’s flawless voice echoing the touching last line - “let me keep you from the cold.” ‘Lost’ and ‘All My Friends’ are two more songs that will not be new to fans, with the latter getting the tiniest little revamp for the release of the album. They are both big songs with the potential to win over big crowds, and Lost offers a welcome burst of energy at an otherwise increasingly melancholy moment in the album.
‘Rome’ is the most stripped back track on the album, and serves as Dermot’s very own tribute to musicians like Bon Iver and Foy Vance who inspired him from the start. Without any little electronic hints and no distinct drum beat, this track allows Dermot to shine bright as both a lyricist and a vocalist. Written as a way to reach out to anyone who might have needed it, ‘Outnumbered’ feels like a hug from the man himself, and it’s a welcome bit of comfort in amongst an album that compels you to revel in every emotion you could imagine.
The pace picks up a little again with ‘Dancing Under Red Skies’ - a soaring love song that feels like it could either be the beautiful beginning or the aching end of a beautiful love story. ‘Outgrown’ is yet another lyrical triumph. With a hook like ‘I know every road I run down has a sundown, that's the way it is’, the song feels perfectly placed on an album full of soul. ‘Redemption’ is a perfect example of Kennedy’s diversity. It’s a beautifully hopeful and uplifting moment that sits so well at the end of an album full of raw and almost painful moments. Title track ‘Without Fear’ wraps up the album perfectly as Dermot’s heartfelt lyrics play out over building strings up to the most beautiful and heart warming ending.
‘Without Fear’ is, quite simply, a masterpiece. Dermot Kennedy is more than just a musician - his lyrics are pure poetry and he pours so much heart into his music you can feel it running through you with every note. It feels like Dermot has given us a piece of himself with this album, as if there is nothing that he feels and experiences that he won’t share with his fans through his faultless songwriting. This album packs one hell of a punch, and Dermot deserves every single bit of success that it is about to bring his way.
Words by Megan Smith