Album Review | Sonder by Dermot Kennedy


Gabby Nelson, Writer/Volunteer

Dermot Kennedy has gone from small town Irish boy busking on the streets of Dublin to globally-known artist with 13 million Spotify monthly listeners, and he plans to play a show at Madison Square Garden on June 14. His latest album, Sonder, is only advancing his stardom. 

Sonder stays true to Kennedy’s acoustic folk sound but also leaves room for pop-infused tracks. 

Dermot Kennedy started developing his unique sound when he was 17 years old, busking and performing at open mic nights at pubs. In 2019, he earned recognition in the United States with his single “Outnumbered,” which peaked at number 8 on Billboard’s Hot Rock & Alternative weekly chart. The song was included in his first album, Without Fear, which was released Oct. 4, 2019. 

Sonder was released Nov. 18, 2022, three years after Kennedy’s U.S. debut. The premise behind the album is based on the noun “sonder,” which is “the realization that each passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own.”

On his website, Kennedy invites people to share their stories, which answer questions like “What’s something about a loved one you wished you cherished more?” In the spirit of sonder, these stories are connecting his fans who span across the globe. 

Kennedy explained this project best in a video message on his website, saying, “I think with this we’ll be able to see how we’re all more alike rather than different, and that we’re all in different parts of the world just doing the best we can and making our way through life the best we can.”

Authenticity is important for Kennedy. His music comes from his lived experiences, and they all hold deep meanings. Yet, at the same time, he hesitates to share what each song means to him because he wants to give his listeners room to interpret the songs for themselves. In this way, Sonder invites us to be empathetic by embracing our own unique feelings and experiences.  

Kennedy also managed to stay true to his roots. With Sonder, he’s made a point to acknowledge where his journey started. 

Starting prior to Sonder’s release, Kennedy has been performing “Sonder Street Sessions.” Going back to where his career started, playing the same Taylor Big Baby guitar he received when he was 10 years old, Kennedy has been busking in cities around the world, including Mexico City, Hamburg, Chicago and Toronto. 

He explained at one of the sessions that these performances are no less important to him than sold-out shows in high-profile venues. The intimate change of pace grounds his music and lets him connect with his fans. It keeps him and his team humble, acknowledging where they came from and how far they’ve come. 

All this to say, Kennedy is still the singer-songwriter we know and love, if not a little more confident in his style and process. He’s still writing lyrics that give me goosebumps, like these lines from my favorite song off Sonder, “Innocence and Sadness.”

“Darling, don’t spend another second wondering what you’re worth /

Don’t you ever get affected by the ways of this world /

Wouldn’t say my soul’s protected, but there’s something at work /

I was waiting on ya, know I was waiting on ya.”

Kennedy’s unique rasp and vibrato punches you in the heart with a collision of love and loss. These songs will make you feel something. We’re all on a journey, trying to find ourselves. Sonder speaks to that and embraces it.

I don’t know what you’re feeling /

Sorrow is a season /

Everything that hurts will pass /

Something to believe in /

I know this isn’t easy /

I promise you the hurt won’t last.