One of the first shows we attended in 2016 was Cam Penner & John Wood back in January at Celtic Connections. With a brand new album (Sex & Politics) under their belt they were a joy to hear back then and now they’re back in town, the songs truly bedded in, the result still somewhat astonishing.
Penner & Wood record in a home built wooden shack in the wilds of British Columbia, a wooden cathedral of sound, tall pines looming on either side, and they evoke the primordial elements of their deep dark woods along with occasional shafts of sunlight in their unique take on rootsy bluesy country rock. Marrying technology and primitive strings and percussion Wood sets up from the start a spooky ambient background throb and thrum, the bedrock on which they deliver their songs. These in turn veer from honeyed acoustic laments with harmonica as creamy as Neil Young’s days in the middle of the road to guttural stomps and hollers, atavistic harbingers of dread and doom. At times the hairs on the back of the neck stand up as Penner wails away.
There’s no showmanship but as the pair beaver away on stage, selecting guitars, sitting behind a simple drum kit, swapping roles, the ambient drone all the while like crickets in long grass soothing and insistent, there’s a workmanlike craft about them. Some of the sounds may seem primitive but there are keen minds behind them. The set didn’t vary too much from the January show leaning heavily on the last two albums and opening with the delicate whisperings of I’m Calling Out which crawled eerily into the tougher blues of I Believe with Wood moving from drums to guitar in the space of two songs. Wood is the cerebral side of the songs, hunched in the corner with his gadgets or laying down some sweet lap steel as the hirsute Penner commands attention but on several songs he slings on his guitar to lay down some liquid lines or throw out some gutbucket blues. They played familiar songs such as House Of Liars, Memphis, No Consequence with Trouble & Mercy given a particularly good delivery tonight. There was less talk tonight although Penner remains a master of the understated joke as when he spoke of his song House Of Liars being featured on the BBC’s Stonemouth saying it was cool, he doesn’t make any money but cool will do. And cool he is, the audience tonight treated to a magisterial show that had several facets but which ultimately proved that Penner and Wood are hard wired into a deep and dark old Americana, goosebumps and all.
There’s still a chance to see Penner & Wood as they play The Blue Lamp in Aberdeen on Friday 2nd December and The Traverse Bar in Edinburgh on Monday 5th.