A new arrival on Folk Radio UK is artist, Cam Penner with his third album, Trouble and Mercy which is released this week. I’ve been looking forward to reviewing this album ever since I first heard it.
I have listened to hundreds of artists so far this year, so when I say Trouble and Mercy is the best album I’ve heard so far, I really mean that. I’m a firm believer that to write songs that move people and their emotions you need to have lived a bit and seen and experienced the suffering that life can dish up and throw at you in dusty handfuls.
There are no fancy thrills on this album…the tracks are stripped down to allow focus on guitar and voice. The songs come across in an honest and intrinsically beautiful way that allows the sentiment in each to strike you right in the chest. I heard every word of sorrow, weariness, love, truth and tale of everday life. 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.
He hails from a Mennonite community in Southern Manitoba where his parents, the town rebels, ran an illegal roadhouse and his grandfather, a bootlegger, delivered his goods to the rural community bringing much needed remedy. Maybe an exposure to that side of life tuned his senses into other folks lives that others just don’t notice or are unable to transfer what they see into words. He certainly had a taste for more…leaving home at nineteen for Chicago where he ran a soup kitchen and worked at a women’s shelter. God only knows what sorrows he saw in his working day…but those daily lives and hardships of others ingrained themselves on him. It left him with a passion for social justice and he continued working with homeless people for the next thirteen years.
Sometimes I feel the thousands of souls I’ve listened to are people living inside of me, telling their tales.
There is a peaceful quiteness in this album helped by gentle guitar and honest contemplation. The lyrics come from his experiences and maybe some dark places that many of us would rather not see.
I found these songs in the alleys and streets. Under a dumpster. In the remains of discarded trash. Faded phone numbers and addresses on cigarettes packs. In empty clubs, gas station pumps and front page headlines. On the bottom of a styrofoam cup. In the last drag, stuffed in the glove compartment. Between sofa cushions. On the side of the interstate. Waking up beside her, watching two worlds collide. In the dives and diners. At cheap no tell motel rooms where you sleep in your clothes, shoes on. Stopping when I saw something shiny. Walking through the ditch, kicking at the tall grass, searching for a dime. Living hand to mouth and waking up to stove top coffee. In the madness of a rich man’s town, where the poor and elite collide. There in the midnight hours, I’d sometimes peel back the gauze and poke it to see if it still hurts.
Cam has been in big demand having opened and shared stages with Chip Taylor, Richard Thompson, Slaid Cleaves, Fred Eaglesmith, Greg Trooper, Carrie Rodriguez, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, John Prine, Glen Campbell, Lyle Lovett, and the Flatlanders. You get the feeling that he was born to travel hard, which he has been doing for the past two years during which he has travelled all twelve Canadian states and performed over three hundred shows.
I can’t recommend this man enough, if you get a chance, go and see him and get Trouble and Mercy.
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Further dates will be announced shortly