The last time I featured young folksinger Ian Penn on this blog was in February of this year just as his single, Headback Home, came out. At the time, this musician from the foothills of Pampanga’s Mount Arayat struck me as an old soul in a young body. This is something you have to watch live in order to appreciate fully, a privilege that I have enjoyed throughout the past six months having caught Penn’s performances for a promotional event in December 2014 and via Dragonfly Collector‘s Happy Monday gigs at Makati’s Boiler Room. Whenever he sings live, this particular artist catches his audience totally unawares: too often, they do not expect such a young musician to sing with a pathos that seems born of a lifetime of experience, or to hear lyrics imbued with a world-weary wisdom partnered with bluesy rhythms and the poignant wail of a harmonica. But that’s exactly what Penn delivers with each performance – and every performance leaves his audience deep in thought and wondering what else to expect from him.
That question has finally been answered in Ian Penn’s debut EP Wild Abandon. Here, the musician plays the part of a storyteller who offers six interesting tales, each with its own particular peg with which to catch a listener’s fancy – and, in some cases, heartstrings.
The EP starts off with the title track, Wild Abandon. It is, essentially, a morning song, a daybreaker. Older listeners would think that the song is a throwback to an older, familiar tune: Cat Stevens’s Morning Has Broken, to be exact. The casual listener would think that the slow, bluesy track doesn’t quite fit the rather eyebrow-raising title, but a closer look at the lyrics show that the “abandon” is the act of cutting loose from a past that seems to hold one back in order to face the new day with a fresh openness:
Sunlight passin’ through the trees
Beautiful morning’; today is here
Clouds in the blue sky pull me in;
Swallowed by darkness deep within
Cold Mountain, on the other hand, has a stillness, a tranquility to it that calls to mind a walk on a mountain path leading to a babbling brook or a pristine spring. If you listen to the song with closed eyes, it evokes the feel of an early morning hike, cold breezes, and fresher air for clearing the mind. It also calls to mind a deep intimacy: the storyteller is one side of a conversation and you can actually feel the silent other party considering his invitation to come take a walk, to come and stay for a bit.
The third track, Miss April, is a straight-up love song. But it is also an object lesson in how relationships grow and change over time:
Time is all we have, dear;
Changing is all we ever do.
You can feel a loneliness, a sense of uneasy separation in this song. And then there is the anticipation of seeing a loved one again after, one assumes, a prolonged separation; there is a sense of completion, a quiet yet palpable joy at the expected reunion.
Live Another Day is another track that can easily bring a tear to a listener’s eye:
Momma, please don’t cry
If I’m not staying, will it be okay?
Momma, please don’t cry;
But I just want to live another day.
It is a story told from the point of view of a young person suffering through the final stages of a terminal illness. There is a somewhat cheerful resignation involved; that the narrator of the story has come to terms with the end of his life. Indeed, he already speaks of those who have gone before and are now “waiting on the other side.” However, the plea to be able to live another day speaks, nevertheless, of regret at a life so suddenly cut short; it is a wish to keep on living despite the pain, a silent protest at this unnatural turn of events when a child has to take leave of this life long before a grieving parent.
Have a Little Time for Yourself is my favourite track off the EP. It’s a dinky, fun-sounding riff on the age-old theme about not always being able to please everybody and that you do have to cut yourself some slack at one time or another. Consider the lines of the chorus:
Don’t look back on your mistakes:
Have a little time for yourself;
You can’t please them either way –
Have a little time for yourself!
Penn’s quirky lyrics also carry a practical way of getting back your bearings by way to retreating from everyone for a while and pointedly avoiding the negativity of the naysayers around you:
I don’t need anyone;
I don’t want you giving me the blues.
I just need to be by myself
Somewhere far away from you!
Finally, there’s Different Kinds of Strangers. It’s a thought-provoking yet sweet way of looking at how people and situations change over time. Here, Penn talks about the people he has encountered on his creative journey as both an individual and as an artist: it is implied that everyone he has met has made a mark on his life in one way or another, that each person has had a lesson to teach – one that has helped transform a boy from the foothills of Mount Arayat into a formidable singer-songwriter who has something to share with the world through the wide-eyed wonder and quiet wisdom of his music.