A Review of the CD
"Sylvia Hotel"
by Cheryl Wheeler

"Sylvia Hotel"
by Cheryl Wheeler

Copyright 1999
Rounder Records Corporation
One Camp Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
ph: 800-768-6337

This review is written by Kevin McCarthy, 2/99
"Kevin and Maxine’s Celtic & Folk Music CD Reviews"
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Forget "The Truman Show." Deep-six the proliferation of webcams. The unbeatable and previously unthought of concept of simply televising the daily thoughts and visualizations floating through Cheryl Wheeler's provocative psyche would be an unqualified ratings bonanza. Sort of David Lynch meets Woody Allen? Hello WB. Line two, Fox Network. Okay, okay, on to the review.

Wheeler continues her unsurpassed melding of lyric to melody with her latest release, a winning pastiche of humor and wistfulness. The drollery sometimes contains a bite as she lambastes her dealings with a bank on the last hidden cut, and 20th century angst on "Unworthy." The pensiveness, to the extent of brooding, is over the vagaries of relationships, one in particular that ended for her recently.

She also cuts to the core of the primary reason for this nation's unmatched homicide rate, with the rhythmic "If It Were Up To Me," a song that builds and builds to a clear cut and confrontive climax. Let's just say she won't be exchanging holiday cards with the NRA come December.

Expressing the excruciating pain from the fracturing of a relationship, Wheeler sings, "Life is short, but the days and nights are long" in the opening line of "But The Days And Nights Are Long." Continuing on with "...Broken hearts keep on beating just the same..." and "...I'll bide my time--like there's any other way..." she captures the unholy ache and the fatalism of seeing no end in sight during such a passage.

"If It Were Up To Me" has an extremely unusual structure for a song but Wheeler pulls it off with aplomb. The first 36 lines begin with the word "Maybe" and the listener is led on, wondering where she is heading? Her last line, the 37th, provides the heretofore inscrutable answer. This composition is her strongest musical political statement yet.

Wheeler poignantly describes the unforseen unraveling of a relationship in "Right Way to Do the Wrong Thing." The protagonist has left his family for another woman:

Wheeler continues: The age-old question that remains is: Foolishly clinging to the belief that an exculpatory combination of words and reasons can be found to justify selfish and harmful actions, the low road waltz down this well-trod path, rather than the high road acceptance of the responsibility concurrent with owning such deleterious behavior and its sad results, is too often the acceptable norm.

Both "All the Live Long Day" and "Sylvia Hotel" again portray the wrenching questioning and grieving process over a lost union. Containing the most creative rhyme so far of 1999, Wheeler sings of her and her animal menagerie in "All The Live Long Day":

In "Sylvia Hotel," she asks: Wheeler at her most playful pounces on her supposed selfishness due to not quitting smoking, drinking, eating, thinking, sleeping, watching TV, writing stupid songs, not learning how to sew, bake, and meditate, and on and on. She opens the song with: She continues on her mirthful bent with an unusual lingual take on the old tune "The Mexican Hat Dance" in "Potato," who is really the master of her domain in "Meow" and a dead-on blast at her financial lending institution in "We Are The Bank."

This is grand entertainment--thoughtful, amusing, heartrending--imbued with the spectrum of human emotions. Filtering through the heart and mind of this artist are both eloquent and wacky statements, all expressed in an enjoyable musical fashion. If there is such a thing as a Singer-Songwriter Laureate of this country, the first nomination goes to Cheryl Wheeler. If not, it's high time we create one.

Track List:

All songs written by Cheryl Wheeler except "Potato", music traditional, words by Cheryl Wheeler.

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