It is an intriguing thing when music and cause join hands. War and politics have created some works which will stand the test of time, but third to these, in terms of subject, is conservation, and I'm not talking the recent green movement, but the attachment to land as a limited and fastly disappearing resource. It was prominent in the late 60s and early 70s with the back to the land doctrines of certain hippie and related groups and really never disappeared, though in the States, money seems to have overpowered most aspects of life beyond comfort and greed. Johnny Rivers visited that movement, his Homegrown album, a financial failure, feeding off of life beyond. Robert Thomas Velline (Bobby Vee) tossed aside pop for the country-inflected Nothin' Like a Sunny Day album, a true gem, again rejected by a public feeding on the growing L.A.-inspired country rock of a financially booming and ethically bankrupt SoCal sound. And there was Heartsfield (Chicago), Pure Prairie League (Ohio), Cowboy (Florida) and others creating music with the sound of rock mixed with dirt. The Sound of the Land, maybe.
Well, Erica Wheeler brings a sensitivity to that Sound here in the good ol' 21st Century which is understated in its simplicity and yet as big as Montana and Wyoming combined. With light country-rocking songs and beautiful pastoral musical landscapes, she carries us back to a time in our lives when making the mortgage payment was not the reason to exist, a time when friendship and love and life ruled all, and she does it so effortlessly that we can close eyes and envision a life without Wall Street (show of hands—how many knew that the Stock Exchange was a private enterprise? I thought so. Me, neither) and Fox News (just typing it makes my skin crawl). Maybe you don't need to get away from Bill O'Reilly, but I do, and listening to Wheeler does the trick. For a short time, at least.
What is so good about Erica Wheeler? Phrasing, for one. When she takes in breath, there is a bare instance when you hang on her next line regardless of song or tempo. The country-rockers like Good Summer Rain and Lucky In Love strike a note similar to the soft, quiet and heartrending The First Sunset and Elk Song. Subject matter, for another. While each song has its own core, they all point in the same direction and beg the question, have we lost our way, but not in a negative sense. There is hope. We hear it in the very inflection of her finely textured voice. We feel it inside, in those places we have covered with layers of excuses and survival tricks. She reminds us what it was like to be a child and see the world open up right before our eyes while reminding us we are no longer children and have a responsibility.
That responsibility for her involves The Trust for Public Land, an organization set up specifically to create open spaces and green spaces in a world quickly becoming concrete. It is a good match. What she sings, they support, and vice versa.
While this may seem an afterthought, it is not intended as such. A big slap should be laid upon the shoulders of Crit Harmon, producer. Sometimes a good record is as much what you don't do as what you do and Harmon, obviously having as much faith in this music, as do I, has a flair for twisting (and not twisting) knobs. The session musicians? Superb.
There is a picture of a paved road between stands of conifers heading toward snow inflected hills on the middle page of the insert. From now on, when I hear Erica Wheeler, that picture will be what I will see in my mind's eye. It is a visual portrait of a place I find more and more important—inside and outside.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2009, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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