Gypsy Summer blowing into Grand Forks

Cam Penner grew up in a small Mennonite town in Southern Manitoba.

Cam Penner grew up in a small Mennonite town in Southern Manitoba.

His parents owned and ran an illegal roadhouse and his grandfather made and sold his own homemade moonshine.

At the age of 18, Cam found himself in Chicago working at a soup kitchen and at night a women and children’s shelter.

He continued working with the homeless for 13 years. After becoming an expert on homelessness, he decided to become a full-time international touring artist and become homeless himself.

He has toured in Canada, the U.S., Netherlands, Ireland, Scotland, UK, France and Germany.

Penner has described his philosophical outlook and songwriting muse: “Sometimes I feel the thousands of souls I’ve listened to are people living inside of me, telling their tales.”

Agreed. When listening to Penner’s songs you can hear the struggle, the hope, the yearning to be better.

Cam Penner’s new self produced album, Gypsy Summer, finds Penner exploring new textures and bolder sounds.

It is his most self assured outing to date. Even though his fractured, rootsy persona still creeps into the mix, this isn’t a depressing record.

Gyspy Summer is full of hope. It’s full of love.

It’s electrifying and provoking. It’s full of everything we should be looking for, not only musically but in life.

The album is a rallying call, “It’s going to get worse before it gets better” Cam chants on the album’s powerful opener Driftwood.

Penner plays to his strengths; every tale is a relatable, personal story delivered from the perspective of characters we want to know so when he adds steel and harmonies to the beautiful Flesh & Bone, the noisy fuzz to Gypsy Woman or strings and electric guitar to the inspirational Hey My My My, you aren’t overwhelmed by the new textures, you simply sink into the backdrops.

The symphony of strings that frames the classic Penner lyricism of Hour of Need showcase the tasteful evolution of his sound but the change seems completely natural and essential to his growth as a musician.

His gruff voice still oozes more emotion than you’d think possible and the straight forward lyrics “follow your heart wherever it leads, I will follow my heart until it bleeds” are still gripping, but there are moments that will shock and amaze even the most devoted Cam fan.

My Lover & I explodes out of the speakers with a pseudo-funk groove and the drum heavy intro to Throw Your Hands Up is so surprising, but Cam understands these bigger sounds well.

With Gypsy Summer, Penner continues to successfully roam from his comfort zone into new territory.

Penner will be at Gallery 2 on Thursday, May 19 at 7:30 p.m.