Kate Fenner’s Dead Reckoning Review

Artist: Kate Fenner: Singing, acoustic guitar on tracks 3, 6 and 8; Stéphane San Juan: Drums and percussion; Connor Schultze: Electric and upright bass; Mark Spencer: Guitar, pedal steel guitar, piano, Wurlitzer, organ and Mellotron; Tony Scherr: Bass on tracks 1 and 7, acoustic guitar on track 7, and electric guitar on tracks 4, 7 and 9; Jason Moran: Piano on track 1; Scott Harding: Electric guitar on tracks 3, 5, 8 and 9, Mellotron on tracks 2 and 9, Moog on track 5, and string arrangement on tracks 1 and 10; Chris Brown: Organ on track 5, and strings, wurlitzer and additional production on track 4; Lucien Clough: Intro and outro piano on track 10, and guitar on track 4; Agustin Uriburu: Cello on tracks 1, 7 and 10, and acoustic guitar on track 2; and Tomoko Omura: Violin and viola on track 1

Album: ‘Dead Reckoning;’ Release Date: January 15, 2023; Produced and arranged by Scotty Hard; Recorded and mixed at Duro of Brooklyn, Brooklyn, New York; Assisted by Nathan Diesendruck and Tybalt Mooney, except ‘My River,’ ‘Cautionary Tale’ and ‘Firefly, recorded at Brooklyn Recording by Richard Salino, assisted by Andy Taub, and ‘Ghost Moon’ recorded by Hugh Christopher Brown at The Post Office, Wolfe Island, Ontario

Life can often pose unprecedented emotional challenges and circumstances when people are least expecting and prepared for them. Kate Fenner, a Canadian musician who’s currently based in New York City, is a skilled singer-songwriter who fully embraces her inner wisdom when facing genuine hardships in life, particularly the death of close friends and relatives. Her unparalleled depth of perseverance and the raw energy that she relies on to combat her grief and its related struggles are showcased on her new 11-track folk album, ‘Dead Reckoning.’

The self-reflective record, which examines the existential weight of life, death and shared trauma, features Fenner’s uniquely powerful voice in an equally haunting and fragile manner. Inspired by such fellow Canadian folk singer-songwriters as Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, Fenner captivatingly contends with intensely relatable themes.

‘Dead Reckoning’ is driven by a grippingly unique elegance, as it compellingly sets the musician’s sentimental vocals against simplistic moments of the piano. Those instances are intertwined with instances of grandeur in the vocals and instrumentals’ layered textures.

The album thrives on Fenner’s ability to turn confessional intimacy into a relatable, humanizing poetic form. She has shared that she was in part inspired to record ‘Dead Reckoning’ after the death of one of her close friends in December 2019.

The singer found solace in an Amy Hempel poem about the failure of language when faced with things like death. The poem advises people that when they want to comfort others and they don’t know what to say, they should sing about their feelings.

‘Dead Reckoning’ begins with the soulful entry, ‘My River,’ which features a tranquil blend of jazz-inspired vocals along with the piano, drums, violin and cello. Fenner contemplates how fragile the human soul can be as people search for their rightful place to heal after devastation. She croons: “My rivers going back to the ocean, no more bruising on the shore. The soul’s procession set in motion, yearning at its core. Fragile river picking through stones. Water under-water, undertow.”

‘My River’ then transitions into the album’s sophomore track, ‘Transit of Venus,’ during which the musician reflects on how a loved one’s absence can leave the people they left behind in pain. But they eventually realization that through sheer determination, they can learn how to heal and move on. The powerful comprehension is set against an emotional mixture of the Mellotron (an electro-mechanical key instrument similar to the piano) and acoustic guitar.

Another noteworthy entry on ‘Dead Reckoning’ is its middle tune, ‘The Torch,’ which is driven by a sense of melancholy on the piano. On the record’s sixth song, Fenner reveals thought she could carry the titular torch into the night where her loved one was headed in order to lead them back into her life. The relatable track echoes the all-too-familiar sentiment that people wish they can stop the progression of relationships changing, so that they can preserve the connection they hoped would last forever.

‘Dead Reckoning’ begins to wind down with its penultimate entry, ‘Received Wisdom,’ which features a strong blend of strings, most notably the cello, as well as the piano. The singer contemplates the relatable journey of fighting challenges in times of uncertainty, and the equally important process of finding inner peace and accepting life’s circumstances along the way.

The album ends with the compelling entry, ‘Firefly,’ during which the Fenner declares that the absence of her loved ones fills the room. In vulnerable, heartfelt vocals, she proclaims that she appreciated their presence in her life, as they loved with sincerity and truth. She memorializes them by declaring their presence will always flickers in the light like a firefly.

Fenner’s latest record emotionally contemplates the devastating effects of the deaths of close friends and relatives on survivors. While the living initially feel burdened with the feelings of loss during these tragic times, the realization that through sheer determination, they can heal and move on is powerfully showcased through the musician’s latest collection of songs. Through a stunning mixture of vulnerable lyrics and soulful instrumentation, from the piano to the strings and drums, ‘Dead Reckoning’ is a powerful album that features the musician’s most intense, relatable and personal work to date.

For more information on Fenner, visit her Spotify, Bandcamp, SoundCloud, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram pages.

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