CEDAR RAPIDS, IA (October 13, 2013) Is Cheryl Wheeler a talented songwriter who is good at comedy, or a hilarious comedienne who happens to be good at writing songs? After watching her show Sunday night at CSPS Hall in Cedar Rapids, the answer is “Both”. And then some.
At a time when it seems most folk songwriters are expressing their angst and dissatisfaction with the world through songs that are often filled with melancholy and dismay, Cheryl expresses her opinion of what she sees in hilarious and often unexpected ways. Not that she can’t write serious songs: heartfelt tunes such as “Aces” (a hit for Suzi Boggus, coming to CSPS Hall October 27), “November Sky” or “Arrow” are the sort of strong, insightful songs that established Cheryl as a powerhouse in the folk music genre. It’s just that she is, well, Cheryl Wheeler and she can’t let anything go by without finding the humor in it.
Sunday night she had the packed house in stitches with wry stories leading up to bitingly funny songs such as ‘Pop Tarts and Spam” (about cruise ships) “It’s the Phone” (made me glad I tend to go against the flow when selecting ring tones) and “My Cat’s Birthday”. Cheryl delivers a hat trick of laugh out loud personal stories, outrageous one liners and satirical songs that left me wondering what life with her must be like.
She spares no one and nothing in both her jokes and her songs (she was unapologetic in delivering the scathingly funny “Your God”). Even the tender ballad “Gandhi/Buddha”, a love anthem to her partner of many years Cathleen has an “alternate version. In “her version”, Cheryle wonders about how she must have done something great in a past life to deserve such a partner as Cathleen. In “Cathleens version” Cheryl muses on behalf of her love that she must have done something really bad to get stuck with Cheryl. Cheryl sings about having saved lives by the hundreds to end up with Cathleen, and Cathleen supposedly sings about having beaten up nuns or drowned puppies to end up with Cheryl.
Such self-deprecating humor reveals the honesty that contributes to the songs in which Cheryl reveals that she knows about life, love, disappointment, joy and that often it is the smallest things in our lives that bring all those to pass. This was evident in the song “Summer’s Almost Over”, in which we share in the simple joys of summer, yet also relate to the line “Oh summer’s almost over and I’m crying but I don’t know why”. She has the gift of describing anything she experiences in life in the most lyrical, unpretentious terms. No wonder artists ranging from Kathy Mattea to Kenny Loggins to Garth Brooks to Bette Midler have recorded her songs.
Oh yeah, I did mention “and then some”. That “and then some” is Cheryl’s voice. She has the sort of voice rings pure and clear, a magical, soul-grabbing voice that can make you fall in love with her just so you could hang around and listen to her sing all day. It’s quite a contrast to hear her deliver a side-splittingly funny story about the last days of her cat, Penrod, then hear her sing song about her relationship with her long time neighbors. It’s almost as though there are two entirely different people inside Cheryl Wheeler. Which is a good thing, because it meant her concert Sunday night was sort of a “two for the price of one” deal.