Cheryl Wheeler
Cheryl Wheeler

Format: Cassette, CD North Star Records

Reviewed By Paul Moffett

When this recording arrived at the LMN office, bundled with another North Star product, an album by the Mair Davis Duo, a classical guitar / mandolin duo, it immediately went into the "listen to this sometime" stack. Wheeler's name didn't ring a bell and even when it did finally go on the player, it was a while before it got a serious listen.

Then a verse from a tune reached out and demanded attention:

And they buried their old dog in their back yard

With a fence and plastic roses and St. Francis standing guard.

She speaks of him quite often, to this day she takes it hard

And they buried their old dog in their back yard.

Having buried an old dog in the back yard, it sketched just the right picture for me, so I set about listening more closely to the rest of this album and began to get progressively more interested. My conclusion was that Cheryl Wheeler is a singer-songwriter of considerable talent on both counts.

The general feeling of the album is of smooth, exquisitely – crafted pop ballads, arranged to show off the songs and the singer, with just an occasional riff to suggest that the players could take a turn if need be. Jonathan Edwards produced the album and wrote the liner notes. Players on the sessions included Kenny White and Mary Chapin Carpenter.

The opening tune, "Gimme The Right Sign," starts off with a "groove" background vocal. When Wheeler's powerful, rich voice soars in with that pleading hook line, it's clear she aims to please.

"Invisible Lady" is a picture tune, a perfect sketch of an episode involving a "crazy lady at the pizza joint last night," who, because she acts odd, is "invisible" to the other patrons.

"Addicted" was a number one country hit for Dan Seals in 1988. I like Wheeler's version better, because the song fits a woman better than a man. I confess that when I first listened to the time, I didn't recall that it was a big hit (I must not have been listening to country radio right then) but I thought it was a pretty good tune.

"Lethal Detective" is a woman's rewrite of "Secret Agent Man;" it pokes fun at the CIA and its operatives, who used to "read little boy stories of the heroes in the CIA." Grown up, he's convinced:

What could be more important

he's a finger on the iron hand

he's a lethal detective man.

"Paradise in Troubled Waters" describes the discomfort of aging boomers who stand in

embarrassed silence, wishing that we could

make a difference, see the light.

Carry the flag, lead the fight

Save the whales, save the seals

Save the trees and birds and fields

and save each other.

My choice for the tune to put on an individual cassette is "Your Radio's Up Too Loud" – not to sing along with, but to blast back at some inconsiderate SOB with a boom box or a new sound system in his car, with the windows rolled down. Not that it would do any good, of course, but the satisfaction would be wonderful.

Wheeler covers the Clint Ballard, Jr. tune, "Game of Love," but, for my money, I'd rather have had another Wheeler tune.

"Quarter Moon" is the song about an elderly couple who "buried their old dog in their back yard." For some reason I can't really put my finger on, this song makes me cry every time I listen to it. It's also the one I play for people to see if they're going to be hooked by this album.

"Same Old Game" is a well-written version of the ancient lament that "there ain't no secrets in town." This tune feels like it could have come from the last couple of Eagles albums. "Arrow" is a pleasant, wistful love song, as is "Behind The Barn."

The promotion of this album by North Star Records is also of some interest to those curious about "the Bizniz." Reading the insert, I noticed that the copyright date on the CD was 1986 and the inside notes listed another album by Wheeler, Half A Book. Then I noticed on a calendar from Nashville's Bluebird Cafe that she was scheduled to play late in May and was listed as a Capitol Records artist.

A call to North Star revealed that, indeed, Wheeler is now with Capitol Records and has a new album, Circles and Arrows, due out on June 18. So why the new push for an old album and even a plug for a competitor's product? Well, North Star has two albums that might still sell if Wheeler does well on Capitol, but, mainly, a subsidiary of North Star handles Wheeler's bookings and a successful record means lots of concert dates. That's how the business works, friends. Take notes.

Anyway, the album is well worth spending your money on and I look forward to spending some on the new Capitol album. Maybe I'll get the other North Star album, too.