Cam Penner – At War With Reason

Album Review | Self Release | Review by Marc Higgins | Stars: 5/5

Cam Penner has a soulful voice, shot with character. On “Gather Round” his chorus of ‘come on people’ is part “Games Without Frontiers” Peter Gabriel, part Curtis Mayfield. Delivered over a captivating soundscape of electronics and strummed guitar chords. “Eastside” continues the grainy, intense, distinctive soupy sound of drums, guitars, loops and raw organ. Think RL Burnside’s urban electric blues with a beat poets rap jazz edge. This is the Folk Troubadour, as a loop pedal savvy pavement busker, playing the studio like a big instrument. A rhyme spitting malevolent guitar slinger for the mad max generation, as much influenced by Ginsberg, Gil Scott Heron and Steve Earle’s curled lip snarl as Dylan. Cam Penner throws words and phrases out with the cadence and punch of rap and performance poetry. “Poor You” crackles with power and atmosphere the vocals fold in on themselves as much sound as words, soulful and hypnotic. There is an infectious guitar hook, but the music is a beautiful hybrid, rhythmic and sharp while delicate and heartfelt. “Lights On (High School Musical)” just seethes with snarling raw guitar, a vocal, spat out like teeth after a punch and a ‘radio play impossible’ chorus. “Tell Me When They’re Gone” is more of a tender nature. Still driven by a killer drum rhythm that John Bonham would be proud of, Cam’s vocal is a crooning Mayfield soulful falsetto, tender over the urban beat. “I Ain’t Nobody” aptly demonstrates the beautiful contradictions and collisions as Penner crafts a new music, a raw but beautiful John Fahey like guitar part syncopates with vocal loops of mouth music and trip hop keyboard bass notes. A wave of minimalist repetitive chaos spirals in and settles to something strange and beautiful. “It’s a Constant” takes a looped Prison Chain Gang work song call and response and marries it to an emotional folk song. The stomping rhythm and the powerful vocal both get into your brain. “Right Here Right There Like That” with a vocal that sounds strangely like a rawer edgy Chris Martin, testifying over a shimmering Hammond organ, is a powerful song, overflowing with soul and spirit. After the sonic textures of the rest of the album, “Over and Over” is guitar and vocal, bare and stripped back. “When it’s all Over” is a curious twisted lullaby shot full of life lessons and metaphors. Affecting and emotional, Cam delivers a killer vocal and bluesy guitar, with the closing music feeling like an end credits instrumental as the hero walks towards the horizon. The tracks are short, never over staying their welcome but packed full of grooves and grimy punch. With the drive of Sun Records Johnny Cash, Cam says what he has to say then stops. Consistently delivering an exciting collision of electrified Seasick Steve Folk Blues, urgent rap verse and some greasy boogie energy. Layered, textured but taut and funky with drive. Lights on or lights off, fans of Daniel Lanois, The Neville Brothers, RL Burnside, even The White Stripes will find a kindred spirit and rewarding listen.