“‘Without Fear’ is yours now. Take care of it for me. I really really hope you enjoy it.” So says former Plec Pick Dermot Kennedy upon the release of his debut album, relinquishing ownership over a story that saw him go from busking on the streets of Dublin to selling out the 3Arena. It would be an injustice to describe this journey as a whirlwind; his success as seeming overnight.
On ‘Without Fear’, Kennedy showcases the often inconclusive results he drew during his soul-searching, and the long-term cost of life on the road. His approach to story-telling hasn’t changed much, if you’re familiar with the now relegated-to-YouTube deep cuts every die sings back to him at shows.
He continues to delicately expose his introspection through relationships broken and blossoming, though now matched with colossal, cross-genre production values. The new polish on album opener An Evening I Will Not Forget lends itself to the song’s catharsis and a chorus that could shatter glass.
On ‘Without Fear’, Kennedy opens the door on moments of brutal vulnerability – at the knife-edge of a breakup; reminiscing on old places he will never have the luxury of seeing through the eyes of a stranger. Rome, described by Kennedy himself as “one of the most nostalgic songs on the album”, sees him plead with time and its process, delivering the poetic quips that separate his song-writing from the other chart troubadours.
With Kennedy, vulnerability is not used merely as a song-writing tool, but is reflective of his lived experience in which he strives to find balance and reconcile the storm that rages within. At no point, however, does Kennedy’s burden feel to be big to share; rather, that it is an experience meant to be shared. The lighter moments – Redemption and its lilting brass being the stand out of the entire LP – are just as effective as the brooding ballads he’s known for.
Kennedy isn’t looking to admonish those who came and went, or pretend that he has all the answers to the questions the universe has presented to him, and it’s this frankness that makes this record so intimate without being insular. While ‘Without Fear’ comes at a time when Kennedy is on top of his game, it gives context to his journey there through biting lyricism and an un-matchable voice.
Regardless of a new sheen or any of the myriad of endorsements he’s received, Dermot Kennedy’s appeal lies in his ability to move people through his willingness to share stories, be they of devastation or devotion.
Read our 2018 interview with Dermot Kennedy here