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Review: Dermot Kennedy's “Without Fear” demands attention from hip hop and acoustic fans alike

Dermot Kennedy has had a slow and steady climb into the music industry. With artists like Taylor Swift and Hozier among his list of fans, Kennedy’s soulful mix of folk roots and electronic beats attracts lovers of multiple genres. Kennedy’s debut album “Without Fear” culminates a decade between busking on the streets of Dublin and streaming to over 10 million monthly listeners on Spotify with heartbreaking honesty.

The record begins with a revamped version of “An Evening I Will Not Forget,” a song that was originally released on Spotify in 2015. Despite the track’s multiple metamorphoses throughout the years, the song carries a certain finality in its album version. Kennedy’s crisp voice and stripped back piano give way to new electronic beats that make certain lines — such as “The angel of death is ruthless” — feel like a punch to the gut.

“All My Friends,” another familiar song originally released in 2017, pays homage to its original version with pop-esque production. Kennedy adds a new depth to the song with heavy drums and updated vocals that feel a bit more mature.

Big, chorus-heavy songs such as “Power Over Me,” “Outnumbered” and “Redemption” give Kennedy a chance to prove his radio-readiness, but still carry his trademark meaningful lyrics delivered by heart-wrenching vocals. 

Kennedy’s new love-struck ballads “What Have I Done” and “Rome” are sweet and sad in a way that feels refreshingly simple. The production of these songs leaves something to be desired, but Kennedy’s voice picks up any slack and demands that the listener stop to feel whatever he is conveying. 

“Lost,” a song released as a single earlier this year, stops any distractions in their tracks with vivid and compelling imagery. The lines, “Someday I’ll need your spine to hide behind” and, “The sky got red and swollen” are impossible to ignore coming from Kennedy’s earnest voice. 

“Moments Passed” remains unchanged from its nearly flawless 2017 version produced by Mike Dean, known for his work with artists such as Kanye West and Travis Scott. The strong hip hop production lures listeners into Kennedy’s impressive depth with lyrics like, “Maybe I’ve lost count of the rooms you’re tall in” detailing a past relationship.

The melody of “The Corner” gets caught in your head just before the lyrics take hold of your emotions. Kennedy uses images of cold weather and a street corner as a metaphor for feeling lost to yourself. The line “Remember who you are, how you were never one for folding” reminds his listeners to stay true to themselves. 

Wrapping up the end of the album, “Dancing Under Red Skies” and “Without Fear” feature heavy lyricism emphasized by their production. The tracks have existed only in the depths of Youtube until this album and are long-awaited for many fans. The album’s title track “Without Fear” captures listeners in the universal story of approaching love fearlessly with lines about “first full laughter” and leading with the heart. 

Kennedy’s debut album encapsulates his history of lyrically mesmerizing songs delivered by an unforgettable voice. With epic production, howling choruses and stripped back acoustics, “Without Fear” appeals to anyone who has felt something, regardless of genre.

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