Even great artists can operate for years below the radar screen of the star-making machinery. Cheryl Wheeler is a case in point. During her thirteen-year career she has written hits for Dan Seals and Suzy Bogus, as well as releasing nine solo albums and being part of thirty-two compilation releases. What? You don't already own anything by Cheryl Wheeler? Different Stripe is a wonderful opportunity to correct your serious musical oversight.
Culled from her solo releases, Different Stripe compiles some of Cheryl's finest recorded musical moments. From the opening notes of her 1990 recording of "Northern Girl" you will immediately be struck by Cheryl's commandingly beautiful voice and consummate musicality. Wheeler's songs' subject matter spans from tales of love lost and found to satirical political commentary. On a "best of" CD it's hard to identify the stand-out tunes since everything is so universally superb, but for first-time listeners Cheryl's own versions of "Arrow" and "Aces" are almost guaranteed to make you an instant fan. The list of players on Different Stripe reads like a who's who of the contemporary folk scene. Background vocals by Jonathan Edwards, Marry Chapin Carpenter, Vince Gill, Harry Stinson, Sheri Huffman, Wendy Johnson, join great players including John Jennings, Steuart Smith, Larry Campbell, Billy Joe Walker, Larry Byrom, and Mark Casstevens on guitars, Bill Coumo, Dennis Burnside, Kenny White, and Jon Carrol on keyboards, Rico Petroceli, Wade Mathews, Zev Katz, Mark Eagan, and David Hungate on bass, Tony Beard, Terry McMillan, and David Palamar on drums and percussion.
As you might expect on an anthology where the cuts vary in age from 1986 to 2001, the sonics vary from good enough to excellent. Some songs, such as "Northern Girl" suffer from a bit too much digital reverb on Cheryl's voice. Generally the sound here never gets in the way of the music, but also sounds as if the engineers opted for doing things the "standard" way rather than go that extra audiophile mile. One sonic exception, "Walk Around Downtown," recorded in 2001, has a fine combination of harmonic warmth and clarity with minimal processing or effects.
Perhaps you are the kind of person who doesn't much care for "chick singers" or "sensitive singer-songwriters" and your political positions fall slightly to the right of Attila the Hun; still, a listen to Cheryl Wheeler might do you some serious good. No, Different Stripe won't make you run out and buy a purple shirt or vote Green Party on the next election, but it will open up your musical horizons in a meaningful way.