May 21, 2009

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Funny folk
Wheeler brings her humor-infused approach to folk to Manchester
By Katie Beth Ryan music@hippopress.com

Among other folk singers playing on the Boston circuit, it might be hardest to characterize Cheryl Wheeler.

The singer-songwriter, reared in Maryland and a quarter-century resident of Swanzey, Mass., has garnered a reputation as the “Bette Midler of folk music.” She’ll grace Manchester with a humor-infused appearance on Saturday, May 23, as part of the Amazing Grace Coffee House series at Grace Episcopal Church. Wheeler is humble enough to shake off any comparisons to the Divine Miss M, but she says that there’s a completely carefree atmosphere at her shows, allowing her to sing and speak as she pleases. 

 “I don’t like to feel like I’m different or separate from the audience,” she says. “I don’t want them to feel that, either. I don’t get dressed up. I just talk to them. I try very hard to be the same way with them as I would be with somebody in my living room, just talking. Obviously it is a show, and obviously when the line works, you deliver it again the next night. But I do try hard to be spontaneous wherever I can be and just be who I am and not try to put on any airs.”

Wheeler has always enjoyed adding her own personal touch to folk music, something that she was able to do with even greater freedom on her newest CD, Pointing at the Sun, which she released independently on Tuesday. Though she enjoyed a long-standing relationship with Rounder Records, Wheeler felt it was time to branch out. With the help of her partner Cathlen and producers Ben Wisch and Kenny White, Wheeler produced a total of 11 tracks. Three of the songs are dedicated to her cat. Another song, “Summer Fly,” first appeared on her Half a Book CD.

 “Kenny and I are very good friends in that he knew exactly what I was hoping for, and boy did he deliver in spades,” she said. “I guess the biggest difference is that I felt a lot more involved in this CD. For instance, the order of the songs were in my head before I even started recording, which has never happened before.”

Those who aren’t familiar with Wheeler may recognize her songs on the albums of Dan Seals, Melanie, Peter Paul and Mary and Garth Brooks. Even Bette Midler has covered songs by her folk music counterpart, and Wheeler says that there are few greater compliments for a songwriter than to have their work interpreted by others.

 “If you’re involved in a creative pursuit like songwriting, I think, especially if you’re a female, you’ve got all these voices in your head that tell you that you can’t do that, you don’t know how to do that,” she said. To have other artists cover her songs, she says, “supports your suspicion that perhaps you’re a good songwriter, to have others singers who you admire do your work.”

Wheeler’s stop in Manchester is part of a mini-tour of the Northeast before she’ll take the month of June off to read, play with her new puppy, and “do things that are not particularly related to music.”

 “Life is so funny and it relaxes me to point those things out. I think we all like to laugh and there’s no shortage of hilarious material.”


Cheryl Wheeler
Where: The Great Hall of Grace Episcopal Church, 106 Lowell St., Manchester
When: Saturday, May 23, 7 p.m.
How much: $35 per table, $30 per person
Contact: 493-3521