A review written for the Folk & Acoustic Music Exchange
I love the way Erica Wheeler captures a mood, a moment. She spins lovely images in finely honed lyrics. She gives these images life in an easy, breezy, warmly intimate alto that makes you feel like you are spending time with someone you know well. It's a great place to be.
But then she will turn around and hit you with a song like Layin it Down. In a litany of anger, hurt and defiance, Wheeler writes "I'm throwing it out/of a moving train/I'm watching it fall/From an airplane/I'm sending it back/In a bottle to you/I don't want it no more/I'm sending it back to you."
She can certainly tell a tale and write a story within the confines of a song. In Jack's Tavern, we learn all about the life of the townsfolk who frequent the local bar:
| "Jack's Tavern's on the corner with a red blinking light |
Burgundy curtains and they're always shut tight
It feels like midnight in the middle of the day
And the regulars, I guess, they like it that way."
|"The snow's starting to stick |
To the roads and the railroad tracks
Out by the river
With those handmade plywood shacks.
And guys reading magazines
Pretending that there's fish to catch
By the light of a Colman stove
Just for a place to call their own."
I guess I find myself coming back again and again to the lyrics in Wheeler's work. But I don't want to overlook her vocals, which hit all of those warm, familiar places, and then some. Like the best vocalists, she takes you on a ride that makes it all look simple and easy. There is a richness and a texture here that bears listening to, again and again. In Frozen River Wheeler's voice rises and falls with the flow of the river, sometimes running, sometimes falling back. Nevertheless, she keeps it all moving with a catch in her voice that makes you want the song to keep on going....
The production hits all the right notes as well. It avoids the tendency, on many 1999 recordings, to leave the arrangements bare and spare. Instead, Wheeler is given just the right amount of support on bass and drums, with a bit of mandolin, country-flavored pedal steel and fiddle to round out the sound.
Three Wishes has a lot going for it. There are many original songs here that seem to capture a moment or a story so well that you can't imagine them being done better. Throw in a couple of covers by James McMurtry (Angeline) and Bill Morrissey (Casey, Illinois) and add Wheeler's warmth and vocal texture, and you have a winner. I can't stop listening to it. Three Wishes is one of my picks among the best of this year's independent recordings.
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Edited by David Schultz