If ever a name conjured up images of wood cabins in the depths of Canada's British Columbia, then Cam Penner is it! A visit to his website promises this and more with tales of his 'fractured rootsy persona' and 'music born from the soil and sin of this world'.
Cam Penner already has five releases under his belt and over the years gathered lots of praise and affirmation, particularly for his live performances. Cam usually plays live with long time musical companion Jon Wood and the two of them are responsible for most of the sounds, recording and production of this current release. For Sex & Politics the two of them locked themselves away for ten days in Cam's self-built studio cabin in the woods, before emerging with the ten tracks found here.
I must confess to never having heard Cam on any recordings before but I have been a regular follower of his live performances captured on You Tube and particularly enjoyed his throaty, raspy but fragile vocals.
Track 1 starts off with a lovely drone over which a simple guitar chord sequence shuffles in beautifully augmented by some mournful harmonica, immediately summoning pleasing images of Neil Young in 'Harvest Moon' mode.
The entrance of track 2 shatters this gentleness; 'I Believe' with its stomping rhythm, incessant guitar riff and almost chanted vocal is reminiscent of that lovely, shambolic drive of Seasick Steve. The third song 'Broke Down' slows things once more with another acoustic intro, but this one is more picked than strummed with sweet little fills before Cam's fractured falsetto appears.
And so it continues throughout this album, full of inventive sound textures, pulses, drones and rhythm's as well as some simply straight forward, great guitar playing. All this is quite remarkable considering the only additional instrumentation was from Scott Bayley who played accordion, melodeon, trombone and added some vocals across the tracks.
Other stand out numbers for myself are 'Come Back To Me' with its striking melody and great electric guitar part and 'Bring Forth The Healing' which ostensibly is a deceptively simple song featuring little more than the chanted title over a handclapped rhythm feature. However, the song then starts to layer up with a great vocal on top of the 'Bring Forth The Healing' line which almost takes us into spiritual territory.
Things end with 'Look Out Your Window' which leads us back into the Neil Young vibe and is essentially a clever re working of the opening song, 'I'm Calling Out'.
I have a couple of minor reservations; firstly, a lot of the songs run together without a space between them which is great for promoting an ambience and feel, but possibly runs the risk of the CD merging into one long song with individual definition being lost. Secondly, Cam's voice is recorded with lots of effects, layers and multi tracking lending a very spacey almost disembodied feel, which is at odds with the music that is both immediate and organic and subsequently the vocals tend to hover above, rather than in the mix directly. This vocal sound reminded me of Bon Iver and James Vincent McMorrow on record from a few years ago and to me sounds a little dated. However, as mentioned earlier, I am a big fan of Cam's live voice so this has probably influenced my ears and personal preferences unhelpfully!
Overall though and minor quibbles aside, this is a thoroughly enjoyable record, full of innovation and ideas. It will be very interesting to see how Cam and Jon Wood capture the essence of the performances here in their live shows, although history suggests this will not be a problem for them!
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