Penny Kerr,
Conscious Contact
(Sundog, 1997)

Conscious Contact, Penny Kerr's first CD, is a combination of blues, acoustic guitar, folk, Celtic and even a little bit of gospel. This is almost completely a solo project. Penny brought Sundog Studio into being in the early '90s and claims it as her "creative space." She wrote the majority of the music and was also responsible for guitar, fiddle, keyboard and vocals. Out of 14 songs, only four can be attributed, in part or as a whole, to other artists.

Penny's strength lies in playing her various instruments. She can be quite plucky on the guitar and she can easily draw you in with her fiddle and keyboard playing. Her weakness is in her vocal range. On several of the songs her voice has the tendency to break more than it should. I am unsure as to whether she is doing this on purpose, like some country singers are known to do, or if she simply does not have the vocal range these songs require. Regardless, this takes away from the music rather than adding anything. Consequently, I am torn between recommending this CD or not. When Penny is good, she is excellent. But when she is off, it is almost unbearable.

Not surprisingly, some of my favorite songs are her instrumentals. "Big Changes" is a great guitar piece that Penny claims evokes "... the feelings surrounding major life changes and their inevitability." I can agree with that. I love her rendition of "The Foggy Dew." The way she blends her keyboard and fiddle is mesmerizing. Another great instrumental is the traditional Irish jig "The Road to Lisdoonvarna." If Penny made a recording that was entirely instrumental and it sounded similar to these three, I would be the first to highly recommend it.

When Penny sings within her range, I quite enjoy her music. Her voice certainly is not the best, but it is decent enough. "6/8 Time" is a captivating piece in which Penny sings about her father and growing up in a family of fishermen. She can be quite the storyteller. Another great example of this is "Save the Regina Maris." The Regina Maris is a ship whose exotic life on the world's oceans is about to come to an end, unless those who care help her make it out to the open sea once again. While "Amazing Grace" is not one of my favorite songs, I like the two verses Penny has added to it to make it her own. This is definitely one of the better interpretations of this classic that I have heard.

Most of Penny's better work is on the second half of the CD. The first half can be a little difficult to get through at times. "Broken Hearts," for example, is OK, but kind of boring. "Feel Good Inside" makes me cringe inside; the vocals are awful. Penny sounds like she is having a good time, but it really sounds like a bad karaoke night to me. The same is true about "Old Before My Time" (the only bad song on the second half of the CD) -- upbeat, but with unbearable vocals. "Tornado Dream" is another ho-hum, kind of boring, zone-out song. "His Love is Greater" is the only boring instrumental. Have you noticed that I've used the word "boring" a lot here? Except for a few select pieces, the first half of this CD is somewhat monotonous and I can't recommend it.

So, there you have it. At best, I am recommending half a CD. The majority of the better songs are on the second half of Conscious Contact. Her website has samples of two songs I like, "6/8 Time" and "Amazing Grace," as well as one that makes me cringe, "Feel Good Inside." I am sure you will enjoy the way Penny plays her instruments. She really is quite talented on the fiddle and guitar. What you will think about her vocal talent, however, might be totally different.

[ by Wil Owen ]

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