Cam Penner & Jon Wood. The Fallen Angels Club @ The Admiral Bar. 21st November 2018

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Shoot! First time an artist has provided Blabber’n’smoke with the opening for a live review but here’s Cam Penner on Facebook just before he hit the stage…

“I wonder what people think when they see Jon and myself walk up on stage. Especially if they have never seen us before. The Bear. Pacing back and forth, machines whirling, ghosts, crashing, pedals creaking, the beat, falsetto, eyes closed. The Conjurer. Feet hovering over lights, notes rising, crooked fingers pulling wire, gripping, colours, coaxing, luring.”

Yip, that about sums it up. Penner’s a large guy and he does wander the stage picking up this and that, banging and strumming, in his element. And Wood does conjure as he deftly coaxes sounds from his set up, tape loops and sound effects which surround the pair and envelop the music. Ah, the music. There’s mystery and menace, love and humility, savage blues and tender romances, sounds one can imagine primitive man heard, allied with tribal ritual and chain gang hollers, delta moans and sylvan murmurs. All summoned up by these two Canadians armed with guitars, a drum kit and tape loops.

The scene was set from the start as Penner did indeed wander the stage before muttering “Come on people” into the mic and then looping it into a chant as the pair eased into Gather Round from their latest album, At War With Reason, the first of four songs from the disc played without interruption. With the looped chant sounding like a Curtis Mayfield refrain the song was hypnotic as Penner urged us to join together to combat the current mayhem before letting loose some on stage mayhem as East Side’s thunderous kick drum and scintillating guitar shards from Wood accurately summed up a state of urban warfare. East Side petered out with a burble of delicate keyboard and eased into the crepuscular Poor You which gradually built in intensity before erupting into a savage rendition of Lights On (High School Musical), Penner’s savage riposte to the spate of school shootings which has plagued America. With guttural guitar from Wood, Penner inhabited the world of rap here, the song briskly executed and ending with him declaring, “For the kids.”

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It was a stunning opening to the night’s set, a suite of songs perfectly delivered with a fierce honesty. Taking time out to tell the audience of his love for Glasgow (and he’s sincere in this), he went on to remind us of his singer songwriter roots without all the sonic trappings on Thirteen before launching into House of Liars, his song which featured in the BBC drama Stonemouth. Ghost Car, a rain slicked road song, and Cool Cool Nights (with Wood on lap steel) were another pair of what might be called conventional songs amidst the night’s primal screams, both outstanding. But it was soon enough that Penner and Wood dived into the swamp with an utterly brutal and eviscerating blend of Can’t Afford The Blues and Honey as the pair of them whipped their guitars into submission, blazing away for an eternity (or at least seven minutes). The night was ending and Penner visited his more tender side for an affecting delivery of Over & Over but the applause encouraged the pair to stay on stage for another visceral blues take on Memphis with his stentorian wailing somewhat akin to Howling Wolf. The skewed, almost Beefheart like, To Build a Fire followed bringing this awesome night to an end.

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Blabber’n’Smoke has seen this duo several times and will testify that their shows are a communion of souls as Penner, a humble and lovely man, and Wood, a musical maestro, take their audience on a trip into the vitals of roots music leaving no one unmoved. With all the sound effects and loops conjured up on the night each show is unique and as good as their albums are it would be mighty gratifying if one day they captured a show on disc in the hope that they also capture some of the magic and mystery they conjure up on stage.


Cam Penner & John Wood. Fallen Angels Club @ The Admiral Bar, Glasgow. Thursday 30th November


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.


Cam Penner & Jon Wood with Rayna Gellart @ Celtic Connections Saturday 16th January 2016


Cam Penner and his sonic wizard sidekick Jon Wood transformed the Tron theatre  into a magical space for an evening, Wood setting up a constant thrum and throb with his array of tape loops and sound effects. Akin to the background ambience found in nature, birdsong, wind rustles, trees creaking, the eternal hum of Mother Nature, the effects underpinned the music played and framed the pair’s perambulations across the stage as they chose their  instruments with Penner offering lengthy, wise and humorous introductions to several of the songs.

For music carved in a home built wood shed there’s a great deal of technical wizardry involved but at its heart is Penner’s voice which can change from a tender whisper to a threatening holler and Wood’s lap steel and jagged electric guitar playing. Rudimentary percussion is banged and kicked, Penner plucks a tiny guitar and the loops of sound loop on. The opening song, I’m Calling Out (from the new Sex & Politics album), evoked nothing less than the sweet soft country sound of Neil Young back in the days before it segued into the frenzied alarum of I Believe, Penner summoning ghosts of secular and sacred music hollers, Wood ripping notes from his guitar. Continuing with the new album Broke Down had Penner in a fragile state, his voice a croaked plea while Wood sprinkled the song with slight burbles of sound, almost like faint raindrops. Again the pair then shook up the atmosphere with anther howl of a song, the chain gang like wail of Hey You (Lovers of Music).

Four songs in before Penner addressed the audience who were by now desperate for a breather after this impressive opening. His beguiling tales of dick shaped missiles, his love for RL Burnside and Public Enemy and how he came to be featured on the BBC series Stonemouth punctuated the remainder of the set, his beaming grin and obvious joy at being on stage endearing him to the audience. A brace of songs from To Build A Fire were delights, House of Liars the aforementioned song from the telly and No Consequence a spooky wail dredged from the swamp. A rousing Bring Forth The Healing had the emotional heft and strength of ancient spirituals, Penner showing why some folk have described his music as shamanistic.


Support act, Rayna Gellert was a delight. Playing fiddle and guitar along with her partner Jeff Keith on guitar she epitomised the connection between Celtic music and the new world as she spoke of the Scottish settlers in North Carolina. Playing her own tunes and songs from Uncle Dave Macon and Washington Phillips she reminded one of John Hartford at times, her fiddle jigs and waltzes soaked in old time charm while her rendition of Black Eyed Susie, a favourite from her days in Uncle Earl (and arranged by her father Dan Gellert) was rousing. Singing more these days Gellert was joined on stage for several numbers by Scots singer Siobhan Miller who added some excellent harmonies to Phillips’ Take Your Burden To The Lord and a striking In The Ocean from her album Old Light.

Celtic Connections


It’s that time of year again when the good folk of Glasgow (and elsewhere) brave the cold for the warm sup of Celtic Connections, better than chicken soup for the soul in these dark January nights.

There’s the usual array of star names. This year Lucinda Williams, Kris Kristofferson, Rickie Lee Jones, Jason Isbell and Sturgill Simpson are all on board while the likes of Rhiannon Gidding, John Grant and Patti Griffin should be familiar to readers. Over the next few posts Blabber’n’Smoke will be highlighting some acts we’ve reviewed who are appearing, perhaps less stellar in the billing but guaranteed to appeal.

Cam Penner Tron Theatre. Saturday 16th January

Penner (along with his musical wizard Jon Wood) brings his sparse, cold songs, steeped in nature and history to The Tron. His last album, To Build A Fire was universally lauded and two of its songs were used by the BBC for their series Stonemouth. He’s got a new album, Sex and Politics out this month so we can expect some of that to be aired. We reviewed his last Glasgow show  here

The Mike and Ruthy Band/ Sawitsky & Koulack Old Fruitmarket Sunday 17th January

Looking forward to this one. Debut  Celtic Connections performances for both acts with Mike and Ruthy bringing a full band including a horn section over for what should be a rollickingly good show. We  noted that they have a solid propulsive folk rock sound on their album, Bright As You Can .Meanwhile Sawitsky & Koulack were responsible for the haunting old time guile of Fiddle & Banjo


We’ll look at some more of the hidden gems of Celtic Connections soon and see you if you’re at any of these shows.

Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty. Going Down.


A Vancouver band, Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty are based around the talents of Mississippi born Connely Farr who, with his three Canadian band mates (Jay B. Johnson, drums; Ben Yardley, guitar and Jon Wood, bass, piano and organ) released a very fine slab of Southern rock on 2010’s Way Down Here. Going Down maintains the quality of its predecessor and in a similar fashion mines a sound more akin to the Deep South rather than what we might expect from the Canadian seaboard. As for Deep South we mean the guitar charged thrust of bands like The Drive By Truckers as opposed to soul or blues.

The album opens with the country rock strains of Trouble, a deceptive opener as thereafter we are in deep rock country but it’s a lovely song, Farr’s hoarse vocal delivery carrying just the right amount of hurt to counteract the sweet guitar lines. The title song follows and dives into a clangourous riff with a garage punk sneer; turn this one up as it will rattle the house. It’s So Easy pales in comparison with its relatively tame delivery although the sparring guitars midway are invigorating while Hurtin’ (written by Johnson) limits itself with a pile driving riff that recalls muddy seventies boogie bands without really going anywhere. Likewise Mexico, which despite some superb guitar squalls, lacks the originality and vigour of its compadre songs here.

All is forgiven however with the spectral guitars, gloomy organ and rolling drums of Dead & Gone and the brooding Country Boy which serves to deliver the heads of the Truckers and Neil Young on your platter. Here the guitars curl with a menace as the song heads into the swamps. Even better is Bad Bad Feeling where Jon Wood’s production recalls his work with Cam Penner, slide guitars sound as if they’re being scraped by rusty knives as Farr descends into an alcohol fuelled hell.





A Blabber’n’Smoke Christmas

Slugg at Santa

Ho ho hum. It’s Christmas so the shops and the airwaves are full of jingle belled songs spreading the cheer. Let’s admit it, most are awful and even the better ones are dulled by repetition. So Blabber’n’Smoke has spent some time on the old interwebs thing to try and find some Christmas songs that are a wee bit off of the beaten track. Enjoy.

Otis Gibbs

American Gun

Daniel Michaelson

Cam Penner

Viv Albertine

Robert Earl Keen. Most folk will be familiar with his song  Merry Christmas With The Family. This is just as good.

Wild Billy Childish

Erin McKeown

The Felice Brothers

Joseph Spence. Cerys Matthews seems to like this on a lot.

This went the rounds some years ago claiming to be by Nick Cave and Tom Waits. It ain’t.

It’s Christmas so we need an orphan song

Some power pop

And some hokum

And finally, as television is so important to Christmas here’s a TV special from the good folk in Glossary



Cam Penner and Jon Woods. Blackfriars Bar, Glasgow. Saturday 8th November


On a rain soaked and cold Saturday night in Glasgow the troglodyte trappings of the cellar in Blackfriars offered a warm and dry repose. The cave like comparison seems apt as it was a bear of a man, big, bearded, cradling a tiny four stringed acoustic guitar, who emerged from the shadows to mesmerise the audience for the next hour or so. Cam Penner looks ferocious, a look belied by his easy going and gentle introductions, but when he sang he drew the audience into a different world, one that’s sparse, cold, steeped in nature and history. Be it the reminiscences of Once A Soldier, the spectral Ghost Car or the gutbucket blues of Memphis Penner preached,crooned and hollered, stalking the stage, gently picking his guitar or banging a drum kit.

Cradled in the corner throughout this was Penner’s foil, fellow Canadian Jon Wood who conjured sounds from a variety of instruments and effects. On guitar, Wood ploughed the blues as sweet, sad and occasionally savage notes flew from his fingers while his lap steel added colour and atmosphere. Integral as his guitar efforts were to the show it was Wood’s use of a sampler which created a twilight zone where ghosts dwelled and shadows beckoned while sampled keyboards added to the tapestry of the sound.

Together the pair delivered a show that cut to the bone with occasional shivers to the spine as Penner spun his tales and wove a web that tantalisingly drew us in to a world far removed from a rainy Glasgow night. A trip to a heart of darkness drawn from Penner’s life and country that the Glasgow punters for the most part live vicariously but for the duration of the show we were in the wilderness with this big-hearted man as our guide.

There’s still time to catch Penner and Wood this week, dates here:

Nov 13 Kirkcaldy, Nov 14 Woodend Barn Banchory, Nov 15 Blue Lamp Aberdeen, Nov 16 Harbour Arts Centre Irvine

Blabber’n’Smoke’s Top Ten for 2013

I succumbed to the idea of a top ten for the first time last year and if nothing else it’s been useful looking back at it over the past few days and comparing it to the list below. Was it a good year for music? I don’t know. Has there ever been a bad year? All I can say is that I’ve enjoyed listening to music this year as much as the last one and the year before that and so on. Many of last year’s list still get regular plays here so at least I liked them and the number one, John Murry’s Graceless Age has had a second wind with its eventual release Stateside. It may seem odd to have an artist with two entries in the list but both albums by Michael Rank & Stag are simply superb examples of what Blabber’n’Smoke would define as Americana; rooted in the country with a frontier outlook and a fierce regard for the common folk. And a happy coincidence to have two works from Howe Gelb mentioned also as he continues to plow his singular field. Both albums have striking images of Gelb threatening to turn him into an Americana icon, part Mt. Rushmore, part Dorothea Lange, for Blabber’n’Smoke, he’s a hero. Anyway, here’s what rocked our boat over the past twelve months.

1. Doc Feldman & the LD50. Sundowning At The Station. This Is American Music

Soiled songs and dusty ballads sounding like a wounded Crazy Horse. A triumph for label of the year, This Is American Music.

And here’s the man himself

2. Michael Rank and Stag. Mermaids. Louds Hymn

Wracked and raw country folk and rock from North Carolina’s Michael Rank. In the space of two years he’s delivered three albums (one a double disc set) that in a fit of hyperbole we said it sounded as if Keef had left the Stones in ’69, joined The Band and recorded with Neil Young frying honeyslides in the kitchen. At the very least it comes close.

3. Israel Nash Gripka. Israel Nash’s Rain Plains. Loose Music

Guitars weave and wander with a ferocity and lyricism that defies description and he repeats this throughout the album and there’s a moment in the title song where the guitars fizz and burn just like the best firework you’ve ever seen.

4. Cam Penner. To Build A Fire. Independent

“Ukuleles, guitars, banjos were strummed. Floors were stomped. Kick drums were kicked. Feet stumbled. Thighs, knees, hands, slapped, clapped. Voices strained and bent. Fingers gripped, grabbed, picked. Arms and hands flung. Skin wrapped tight strained and stretched. Body and sound thrown against wood and metal.”

5. Michael Rank & Stag. In The Weeds. Louds Hymn
No apologies for the second appearance from this tall, stick thin North Carolina rock’n’roll ragamuffin. The sonic slurry he conjures up is nothing less than mesmerising.

6. Sam Baker. Say Grace. Independent

Baker’s wounded heart goes from strength to strength

7. Diana Jones. Museum of Appalachia Recordings. Proper Records.

She’s not well known but whenever we mention her there’s a flurry of activity from folk who recognise Jones’ ability to sound as old as the hills and bang up to date, the thinking man’s Gillian Welch?

8. Birds of Chicago. Birds of Chicago. Independent.

JT Nero makes an honest woman of Allison Russell as they formally pair up for a laid back celebration of harmony singing and some Tupelo honey.

9. Dead Flowers. Midnight at The Wheel Club Hee Haw Records

Dark and deep, vocally and lyrically, a trip through North America and the soul.

Dead Flowers – The Beach from deadflowers on Vimeo.

10. Wynntown Marshals. The Long Haul. Blue Rose.

Local heroes, The Wynntown Marshals survived some turbulent years with band members coming and going. With new crew on board they came up trumps with a bigger, more layered sound and another fine songwriter in the shape of bassist Murdoch McLeod who penned the amazing Tide. Topping off a great year for them the band were snapped up by the very discerning blue Rose label.

Honorable mentions

Howe Gelb. The Coincidentalist
Howe Gelb. Dust Bowl
Mark Collie & his Reckless Companions. Alive At Brushy Mountain State Penitentiary.
J. R. Shore. State Theatre.
The Coals A Happy Animal
Benjamin Folke Thomas. Too Close to Here
Slaid Cleaves. Still Fighting The War
Thriftstore Masterpiece presents Lee Hazlewood’s Trouble Is A Lonely Town.
The Quiet American. Wild Bill Jones
Amanda Pearcy. Royal street
Heidi Talbot. Angels Without Wings
Jim Dead I’m Not Lost
Rachel Brooke. A Killer’s dream
Great Peacock E. P.