Cheryl Wheeler,
Pointing at the Sun
(Dias, 2009)

Pointing at the Sun is Cheryl Wheeler's 10th album and, if you haven't caught up with her yet, you've certainly heard her songs, which have been recorded by such artists as Dan Seals, Kathie Mattea, Susie Bogguss, Garth Brooks, Peter, Paul & Mary, Melanie and Bette Midler. She is one of the premier singer-songwriters of our time, as well as one of the funniest.

When you attend her shows, you can never be quite sure which Cheryl Wheeler is going to show up: the serious singer-songwriter with the beautiful voice, the standup comic, or both. Whichever one it is, you're in for a fine time.

Pointing at the Sun finds Wheeler in a contented mood, happy and satisfied with where her life is now, as opposed to the searching and yearning person who dominated some of her earlier albums. Whereas before, she sang about searching for a way to go on, in her song "Holding On" she reaches out to another person:

I won't let you fall. Hear me loud and clear,
I will not let go. I will be right here. Holding on.

But even as she offers her strength to help the other one hold on, Wheeler is realist enough to know the journey will not always be easy:

With the past not far behind
and the future not in stone
I suppose from time to time
we'll be howling at the moon
and holding on.

This CD is a mature statement from a woman who has come to terms with her own life and has accepted what she has found. In "Pointing at the Sun" she tells us where she is now:

Who and what and where and why
and how and when
I don't have a whisper of a clue.
Do fishes ever look beyond the tank they're in
and somehow contemplate creation, too?
I don't expect to understand
the question's so beyond us,
the mystery is majesty, humbling and wondrous.

The lyrics are direct, but Wheeler's writing is never simplistic. Metaphors abound and Wheeler has a knack for taking us in unexpected directions with her words.

Even when the singer is down, she still takes heart. She sings about the distance between who she is and who she wants to be but, unlike earlier songs, where she, hilariously but with a touch of seriousness, sang the praises of Prozac, this time she recognizes that "I don't need no comforting / no pills to make me happy...." The words she sings can be the medicine that touches her the most.

If all of this sounds like a heavy album, a wallowing in the morbidity of the self, it is not. The music is typical Wheeler; bright tunes with excellent arrangements and fine production touches from Kenny White and Ben Wisch and we haven't even looked at the cat trilogy that closes the album. If you've seen Wheeler live, you've heard about Penrod, her late cat, who is the star of many of her funniest stories, as well as the subject of three humorous songs here.

For about 20 years, Cheryl Wheeler has been writing, singing and recording great songs in a series of wonderful CDs. Pointing at the Sun is one of those where when you hear the songs for the first time, you feel you've been listening to them all your life. A part of the reason is because they are solidly in the tradition of Cheryl Wheeler music; it's not a formula, but a sensitivity that inhabits all of her work. Yet as familiar as they feel, the songs grow on you with further listening. This is a CD whose charms are only hinted at on first listening and whose riches emerge from further hearing.

It's another Cheryl Wheeler winner.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

3 July 2010

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