|“My Cat’s Birthday” by Cheryl Wheeler|
Cheryl Wheeler is actually two people, struggling for control of the mic. There is poet-Cheryl, writer of some of the prettiest, most alluring and intelligent ballads on the modern folk scene. And there is her evil twin, comic-Cheryl, a militant trend defier and savagely funny social critic. The result is a delightful contrast between poet and comic.
Poet-Cheryl writes achingly honest songs of love and loss. Contrasting the prosaic landscapes of her native small-town America with the hopelessly rootless life of the traveling performer, she touches the common chords with any who feel the tug between our busy, clamorous times and the timeless longing for simplicity and silence. Her deceptively plain-spun songs have been hits for such main- stream stars as Suzy Bogguss(Aces) and Dan Seals (Addicted), and have been recorded by everyone from Bette Midler, Maura O’Connell, and Peter Paul and Mary; toJuice Newton and Garth Brooks.
Comic-Cheryl comes on like Groucho-in-a-housecoat; a fiercely everyday woman with a barbed-wire tongue. Shredding the mores of our gossipy, greedy, trend-obsessed culture, Wheeler always aims enough darts at herself to never seem sanctimonious. When it’s comic-Cheryl’s turn, the poet simply turns over the mic and allows the comic to be displayed in her native habitat: the stage. Wheelercan comically lampoon modern culture while thoughtfully teasing herself and the audience.
As the two forces smooth their conflict, taking their separate turns and melding into the same artistic vision, Wheeler emerges as a gifted and openhearted songwriter approaching the sure summit of her craft. Audience members’ abilities to find their own lives re- flected in the sweet spaces of her songs reveals an artist comfortably wearing the austere genius that defines folk music’s best traditions. More confidently and beautifully than ever before, she proves that the poet and the comic are one and the same.
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