This album is a rallying call. It reaches out, boldly and magnanimously into present-day existence.
With Gypsy Summer, Penner continues to successfully roam from his comfort zone into new territory.
His fourth and first self produced album, Gypsy Summer finds Penner exploring new textures and bolder sounds. It is his most self assured outing to date, a richer contrast to the defiant stripped down sensibilities of 2009′s Trouble & Mercy. Even though his fractured rootsy persona still creeps into the mix, this isn’t a depressing record. Gypsy Summer is full of hope. It’s full of love. It’s electrifying and provoking. It’s full of everything we should be looking for, not only musically, but in life. Penner plays to his strengths; every tale is a relatable, personal story delivered from the perspective of characters we want to know so when he adds steel and harmonies to the beautiful ‘Flesh & Bone’, the noisy fuzz to ‘Gypsy Woman’ or strings and electric guitar to the inspirational ‘Hey My My My’, you aren’t overwhelmed by the new textures, you simply sink into the backdrops. The symphony of strings that frames the classic Penner lyricism of ‘Hour of Need’ showcase the tasteful evolution of his sound, but the change seems completely natural and essential to his growth as a musician.
Penner’s gruff voice still oozes more emotion than you’d think possible and the straight forward lyrics “follow your heart wherever it leads, I will follow my heart until it bleeds” are still gripping, but there are moments that will surprise and amaze even the most devoted Cam Penner fan. ‘My Lover & I’ explodes out of the speakers with a pseudo-funk groove and the drum heavy intro to ‘Throw Your Hands Up’ is so surprising, but Penner understands these bigger sounds well. In a complicated world, Cam Penner finds beauty in simplicity, with an honest, spare approach to folk music that is refreshing in an age filled with so much insincerity and irony. Singing uncompromising songs about redemption and truth, his is a voice for the disenfranchised, a storyteller for those who never reach their destination. Penner’s fiercely personal lyrics are complemented by a gentle acoustic guitar style, and the defiant heroes of his songs are weary, but they are never defeated.
Penner had a unique view on the world early; his parents owned and ran an illegal roadhouse and his grandfather made and sold his own moonshine within a small Manitoba Mennonite town. At eighteen Penner left small town life to wander the highways and back roads of North America. A year later he found himself in Chicago serving mystery soup and stale bread to two hundred and fifty homeless men a day. Next, a women & children’s shelter, then youth shelters and detox centres. For thirteen years he immersed himself in this subculture absorbing as much raw humanity as he could. When the shift was over he would spend endless cathartic hours writing and playing his guitar, exorcising his emotions through music. After becoming a self-taught expert on homelessness, he decided to become a full time touring artist, meanwhile becoming homeless himself.
Cam Penner has carved his own path. Music born from the soil and sin of this world. He has described his philosophical outlook and songwriting muse: “Sometimes I feel the thousands of souls I’ve listened to are people living inside of me, telling their tales.” Agreed. When listening to Penner’s songs you can hear the struggle, the hope, the yearning to be better. Cam Penner is a storyteller from the Steinbeck / Jack London mould and if he had been around in the dustbowl era, he would have been singin’ alongside the likes of Woody Guthrie… I can’t recommend this man enough, if you get a chance, go and see him and get Trouble and Mercy.” Folk Radio UK Occasionally reminiscent of Sam Baker in his spare storytelling and hurt, breathy delivery, Penner has an ear for simple poetry whose stark power is enhanced by arrangements that add sparely used accordion, piano, banjo, organ and strings to his own gentle acoustic guitar picking, harmonica, foot stomps and knee slaps to create compelling American folk dramas.”
“Cam Penner delivers songs scorched with dramas caught on an emotional knife edge…Trouble & Mercy, is as haunting a musical landscape as any you’ll pass through this year.”
The Independent (Album of the Week)
“If music had a quota system, then the category of singer-songwriter would be closed due to overcrowding. Thankfully there isn’t, because Cam Penner and his emotional songs of lives lived and experiences endured and enjoyed deserve to be heard in all their stoical splendour.” The Irish Times (4 Stars)
“From the worn edge in his voice to the wired and sleepy guitar picking…the excellent songs and his stripped-down, folk Americana is straight forward and, in a Steve Earle sort of way, deceptively simple.” Mojo (4 Stars)
Cam Penner’s ‘Gypsy Summer’ is available now!