Luca Rago didn’t come to mince his words, and he’s quite clear that Dermot Kennedy’s new album Without Fear boils down to one word. Dramatic.
Dermot creates this drama through the imagery of his lyrics and the release of his emotions. Every word has its purpose in depicting a story, rather than completing a rhyming pattern. This imagery immerses the listener, so much so that we feel the “cold winter” and recognise the “smell of the rain”, just as Dermot did.
The hyperbole of his lyrics enhances the dramatic quality of the narrative. It is part of his artistic license and is essential in transmitting exactly what he felt in the present of those stories. We can interpret these metaphors as we wish, calling on our own experiences to fit their emotional mould.
His message is mostly pessimistic, one that longs for better times, often referencing the ups and downs of a destructive and passionate relationship. In many of his songs he is talking to someone in particular, maybe the same person he comforts in ‘Outnumbered’.
There is a palpable urgency in the pace of his words, as if he is anxious to offload a heavy burden. So much so, that the listener often relates to the underlying emotions more than to the words themselves. Emotional release, therefore, is the key theme of the album.
The drama comes across from the strain in his voice, the candid emotion that permeates his vocals makes it seem like he might crack, like at any moment his voice is on the verge of breaking. The coarseness of his tone parallels the likes of Lewis Capaldi, giving his music a heart-wrenching character.
His passion is palpable in the striking power of his voice, a vigour which sweeps the listener. If we close our eyes and imagine him on a stage, we can see him tightly closing his own, spitting out the words, and slamming down on the piano keys. This album is its own live show, it invites us into the room, it reminds us that emotion is everything and that young musicians haven’t forgotten that.
The stamping drums, the incessant piano, and the elevating backing vocals combine to envelop Dermot’s own remarkable voice. Indeed, many of the songs have this embroiling, emotional crescendo, that then crumble back down to a bare acoustic guitar. This is the quiet after the storm, the relief that he (and consequently, we) feel after the intense emotional release. It is rare to feel so close to an artist’s emotions, and for the listener it is a privilege that Dermot, and few others, can deliver.
[Image Credit: Sean Smyth]