WHEN you hear Cam Penner singing of the trials and tribulations of this world, listen close.
For this is not your usual troubador singing of other folk’s woes.
He has been there, done it and has the scars to show.
His parents owned and ran an illegal roadhouse and his grandfather made and sold his own moonshine.
At 18 Penner left small-town life in Canada to wander the highways and back roads of North America.
A year later he found himself in Chicago serving soup and stale bread to 250 homeless men a day. Next, he was working in a women and children’s shelter, then youth shelters and detox centres.
For 13 years he was surrounded by a gritty subculture, absorbing as much of life’s lessons as he could.
When work was over he would spend endless hours writing and playing his guitar, exorcising his feelings through music.
After becoming a self-taught expert on homelessness, he decided to become a full-time touring artist, becoming homeless himself in the process.
And those lessons still surface in his music, not least on Gypsy Rose, his fourth – and first self-produced – album.
The very first track has him preaching: “It’s going to get worse before it gets better.”
But even though his rootsy persona still creeps in, this isn’t a depressing record. It’s full of hope.
It’s also full of instances where Penner breaks from his guitar-strumming comfort zone to flesh out the new tunes with new musical experiences.
His gruff voice oozes emotion and the straightforward lyrics are gripping.
He has earned fans through the instinctive way he finds beauty in simplicity, with an honest, spare approach to folk music that is refreshing in an age filled with insincerity and irony.
In the last couple of years he has toured five countries, six provinces, 12 states and performed hundreds of shows. He has opened for Chip Taylor, Richard Thompson, Slaid Cleaves, Fred Eaglesmith, Greg Trooper, Carrie Rodiguez, Blackie & the Rodeo Kings, John Prine, Glen Campbell, Lyle Lovett and the Flatlanders.
He has achieved most of this with no label or booking representation, just a natural knack to find his own way into bars, theatres, cafes, backyards, and honkytonks.
Cam Penner is at the Greystones, Sheffield, next Wednesday, March 28. The previous evening has Rachel Harrington at the same venue. She is touring with the All-girl Honkytonk Band.
Seth Lakeman and brothers Sean and Sam, The Lakeman Brothers, released critically acclaimed debut album Three Piece Suite in 1994 which led to Kathryn Roberts and Kate Rusby asking them to be their backing group on a tour of Portugal.
The five musicians went on to form Equation. Today Seth – a fiery fiddle and tenor guitar player – is one of the hottest kids on the folk block with a string of magical albums to his name. He is at the Plug, Sheffield tonight.
Rosanne Cash and husband John Leventhal are at the Memorial Hall, Shefifield next Wednesday.
Guest next Friday at the Rock@Matlby will be Chris Wood. Tomorrow’s music at the club, which meets at the Wesley Centre, Blyth Road, Maltby, comes from Phil Beer.
Belinda O’Hooley of The Unthanks and Heidi Talbot are at the Greystones on Saturday.