Where there’s trouble…

Cam Penner ditches the Gravel Road for the open road

“There’s always trouble but there’s mercy there’s two aspects to life; there’s a dark side and a bright side.”

Calgary’s Cam Penner offers this simple statement to explain the title and concept behind his fourth full-length release Trouble & Mercy . Delivered in his rich compelling baritone voice it sounds rather comforting. Penner has worked hard and toured relentlessly to establish himself for his honest rootsy songs. This time around he has sidestepped his usual sidemen The Gravel Road and ventured into the studio of producer-musician Jon Wood for what is definitely a solo record.

This stripped-down presentation serves the new batch of tunes perfectly. For the most part the songs are left to stand strong and steady on their own with just enough added to keep things interesting. On “Tired of This Town” one of Trouble and Mercy ’s standout tracks he laments the changes and upheaval we’ve seen here in Calgary but frames them in a universal context that could pertain to any number of modern cities. Throughout the disc little washes of pedal steel long drawn out accordion chords and a smattering of piano or cello add subtext to Penner’s songs and complement his soothing voice. “You didn’t want more on it. I think the lyrical content was more what I was going for” he says.

As well there were also more practical considerations for the solo approach. “I needed to go out there without anybody attached to me because I couldn’t afford to have those attachments. I needed to be gone all the time” Penner admits. “I really wanted to get better at my craft and there’s no one else to distract me when I’m presenting my songs just me my guitar my songs and the audience.”

For the last three years the roads — gravel paved and multi-lane — have been Penner’s second home and being on the road suits him just fine. “I think the less attachments you have to the physical surroundings the more you can put into your relationships the more you can put into yourself and your creativity” he says. “It’s where I want to be or at least where I feel I should be.” Born and raised in a Mennonite community in southern Manitoba (his grandfather was the resident bootlegger) a teenaged Penner worked in a shelter-soup kitchen in Chicago. His Christian upbringing and experience with the less fortunate continue to fulfil his lifestyle and inspire his songs.

For the CD release celebration a brand new Gravel Road band featuring Nathan Krentz on bass Jon May on drums and Sam Masterton on guitar and lap steel will back Penner. The four-piece band will be joined by local keyboard phenomenon Steve Fletcher on organ for a rousing sendoff before Penner hits the road for another bout of solo touring. There’s no questioning his commitment and conviction.

“Life can change like that” he says snapping his fingers. “Something can happen to your family someone can pass on but there’s always mercy there’s always kindness. That’s the one thing going back to my Christian upbringing. It wasn’t just talk. They lived it every day.” Though no longer a practising Christian Penner continues to take the positive from life’s journey and to see the good in everyone. “We got one shot” he says. “I don’t know what happens when we die I don’t know if we come back or if we go to a better place. Nobody knows that so this is my life and I’m going to serve it.”