Northern Journey Online

Penny Lang

(Contemporary; Blues; Singer-Songwriter)

Montreal performer Penny Lang has had an extraordinary career. She first became popular in the 1960's when her powerful interpretations of folk, blues, country and gospel standards gained her a large, devoted following. Often called "first lady of Canadian folk" Lang had a near brush with international fame when the US-based Warner Brothers offered her a contract to record Leonard Cohen's "Suzanne." She turned down the contract when she learned that she was expected to record with an electric band. Remaining true to her acoustic roots, she walked away from the deal and later walked away from her singing career to concentrate on raising her newborn son, Jason.

As Lang slipped out of music, she also slipped out of the mainstream of society, experiencing difficulties with drugs and alcohol. In 1988, after some time living in a rustic cabin in the Quebec wilderness, Penny re-emerged a stronger woman and a more powerful force. With the help of friends she dealt with her demons, directed her energies into songwriting (a talent she had not explored in her earlier years as an entertainer), and was welcomed back into the embrace of an enthusiastic public. Dubbed "Silverwolf" by the Montreal media, Penny Lang has once again graced us with performances and recordings. Lang received the Harry Hibbs Porcupine Award for Perseverance in 1996.

Yes, from 1991, was Lang's re-entrance into recording. It is a studio album that mixes Lang original compositions with songs by John Lutz, Tom Campbell, Kenneth Pearson, Linda Morrison and Phillis Hall. What makes the album special is the guitar work and vocal backups from her son Jason. The blues cuts are simply delicious. Except for the opening track, this somewhat brief album (originally released as a cassette) is less ornately produced than the later Carry on Children. If you're a Lang fan, you won't be able to say no to Yes.

Ain't Life Sweet, from 1993, is like a return to the best of the 1960's folk revival--the songs are evocative, simple, and connected, carried by a slightly husky, totally real and infectious voice. The instrumentation is a fine statement in simplicity.

Her next post-80's release is Carry on Children, a collection of Lang originals interspersed with songs by Ken Whiteley, Chris Whitely, Pat Humphries, Bill Horan, and Pete Seeger. Penny Lang's warm, husky voice is the perfect complement to her uncanny songwriting talent. Her lyrics, simple without being simple-minded, grab your attention with their immediacy and striking insights. They reflect an understated love and acceptance of life.

There are several outstanding original songs on the album, including "Carry on Children," "Everybody Gone Blind," "Sunny Good Neighbour," "Menopausal Jig," and "Raise up Our Glasses." The only drawback to this album is that it is overproduced. Lang sounds at her best when the background vocals and instrumentation do not obscure the simplicity of her delivery.

Live at the Yellow Door, 1997, is the Penny Lang album to purchase if you're either new to her music or can only budget for one of her CD's. Recorded live in concert at the fabled Yellow Door folk club in Montreal (celebrating the 25th anniversay of Canada's longest-running coffee house), the album is just Penny and her Martin guitar--the way you might catch her at a folk festival, club, or house concert. A magical moment. Recommended.

1991, reissued 1997 She-Wolf (SWPL-9701-2)
Working Class; Straightaway; Simple Simon; November Blues; Rosie; Drunkard; Nama Says; 2 & 20 Blues; God Knows How Much We Can Bear 31:18

Ain't Life Sweet
1993 Silverwolf Records (SWPL-9302)
Open up Our Hearts to See; Senses of Your Leave; On Again, Off Again; Stomp, Bop, Bop; Ain't Life Sweet; Sometimes; Plumb Tuckered Out; Spanish Moss; Firewater; Laundromat Song; Happiness Is; Family Reunion; I Can't Stand up Alone 36:37

Carry on Children
1996 Silverwolf Records (SWPL-9601-2)
Open Up; Carry on Children; Handle with Care; Everybody Gone Blind; Sunny Good Neighbour; Take Your Time; Never Turning Back; Spiritual Woman; Too Many Nights; Third Floor Walkup; Geremia; Menopausal Jig; Oh, Had I a Golden Thread; Raise up Our Glasses 55:04

Live at the Yellow Door *
1997 She-Wolf (SWPL-9702-2)
Ain't Nobody Got the Blues Like Me; Can I Come Across to You; Walking Down the Line; Grin of Understanding; Barrelhouse Blues; Kick out of Corn; If I Had a Hammer; Johnny Be Fair; Streets of Heaven Been Sold; A Little Love; You Are My Sunshine; Those Dance Hall Girls; Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream; Palet on the Floor; 500 Miles; Wade in the Water/Summertime; Riddle Song; Promise Land 51:37

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Copyright © 1999, Gene Wilburn,