Trouble & Mercy
Trouble & Mercy is the sound of six months on the road, as recorded by a weary musician who's seen homelessness from many sides. Canadian Cam Penner describes a world of motels and diners, living in a car, "in the madness of a rich man's town where the poor and elite collide." Trouble & Mercy, he says, is a collection of songs that he "found" along his way, in glimpses of emotions, joy and suffering. "There in the midnight hours, I'd sometimes peel back the gauze and poke it to see if it still hurts," he writes in the sleeve notes.
Recording without his road band, Penner produces a stripped-back sound that complements honest, probing lyrics, tales of people seeking redemption and often coming up short. The sense you get is that the characters in the songs are rarely Penner himself, but they are characters he understands he could easily have been.
Indeed, Penner's songs mirror his experiences and preoccupations. Raised in a Mennonite community in southern Manitoba and later in Saskatchewan, he had a close-up view of rural poverty. He left home at 19 and ran a soup kitchen and a women's shelter in Chicago before returning to Canada where he continued to work with the homeless for another 13 years. Spending most of the past two years on the road, living in the motels and guest houses that are the haunts of most traveling folk singers has given him another view on life far from home.
No song stands out abover the rest, but that seems entirely appropriate for this album, which hangs together more as a complete work than as a series of separate works. Still, be warned: it's a fairly intense and somewhat unsettling experience to listen to the album all the way through. There's little relief from the exhaustion and emotion of life, the loss and the laying of ghosts to rest – or not. Where Penner peels back the gauze, we all are likely to find wounds that are still sore.
Release date: March 29, 2010. Cam Penner is touring the UK during May and June. Full details are in the Gig Guide.