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.

 

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

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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.

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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.

Mississippi Live & The Dirty Dirty. Going Down.

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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.

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