Dirty Linen - p.53
"Funny, sad, nostalgic, the marvel of Wheeler's songwriting is that she brings just enough to the table to allow listeners to engage the song with their own experiences."
Personnel: Cheryl Wheeler (vocals, acoustic guitar); Cheryl Wheeler; Jonatha Brooke, Lucy Kaplansky, Rachael Davis, Ben Wisch (vocals); Duke Levine (acoustic guitar, electric guitar, slide guitar, steel guitar, lap steel guitar, National guitar, mandola); Mark Sherman (vibraphone); Zev Katz, Paul Bryan (bass guitar); Steve Pelton (drums, percussion); Shawn Pelton (drums); Marc Shulman (acoustic guitar, electric guitar); Kenny White (piano, organ, Wurlitzer organ); Jay Bellerose (drums, percussion).
Audio Mixer: Ben Wisch.
Recording information: Bailey Building & Loan; The Bottom Line, New York, NY.
Much like the moon in the painting that graces the cover of Defying Gravity, Cheryl Wheeler's musical offerings tend to illuminate the darker side of life. Soured relationships, a troubled world, and even a hurricane are quietly explored through Wheeler's sage lyrics and gentle acoustic guitar. This description may make the disc sound a bit depressing, but the richness of Wheeler's voice and music provide solace even when exploring the darkest places. Dealing with the loss of someone can be difficult, and in the poignant "Since You've Been Gone" Wheeler wonders why "a woman my age," with her attendant wisdom, still manages to take it all so hard. "Must Be Sinking Now" proves that moving on after an intense relationship dissolves can be just as difficult, and even the end of a season can bring one to tears as the "Summer's Almost Over." Throughout Wheeler's songs a listener can recognize that someone else has had similar experiences, and that can make her lyrics more cathartic than depressing. Not all is gloomy in Wheeler's world, and there are glimmering passages of happiness in the pretty views from the "Little Road" or the mounting wanderlust of "Alice," a widower ready to see the world. Even the impending blow of Florida's Hurricane Floyd can't dampen the amusing moments in the retro jazz of "Here Come Floyd." As the disc progresses, Defying Gravity unfolds as one of Wheeler's most consistent works in song quality and tone. However, similar to her other discs, there are two tunes near the end that temporarily derail the train of beautiful songs. Wheeler's comedic side, much more appropriate in concert, breaks the tone of the disc with live concert recordings of audience favorites "It's the Phone," a rant on cell phone usage, and "On the Plane," a similar rant on air travel. Although these songs are topical and lyrically clever, they are much more effective as interludes at a performance or on a complete concert recording. On a studio disc, they come off as abrupt interruptions. Wheeler is much more successful when she builds humor into fully fleshed-out songs like "Here Come Floyd." Despite the annoyance of those two songs, Defying Gravity is one of Cheryl Wheeler's most heartfelt and beautiful sets. ~ Aaron Latham