Though the topics on her sixth album include farmers, gun control, potatoes, cats, and, on a hidden track, even banking, Cheryl Wheeler spends most of her time singing about a first-person character who travels extensively around the country ("Lighting Up the Mighty Mississippi," "Rainy Road to Atlanta," and the title track) smoking, drinking too much, and trying to get over heartache. Longtime listeners will recognize this person with her unrelieved self-pity and her interests in nature and pets, but some may be beginning to wonder whether the songwriter really suffers more romantic trouble than the rest of us, or whether it just fascinates her as a songwriting subject. The tone always seems to suggest that the breakup happened recently and that the singer is in the early stages of recovery. She seems hurt, vulnerable, confused, and depressed. But that's exactly how she sounded more than three years ago on her last album. Wheeler's other witty, wordy songs, such as "If It Were Up to Me," a list song speculating on the reasons for violence that concludes, "If it were up to me, I'd take away the guns," and the comic "Potato," set to the tune for "The Mexican Hat Dance," provide some relief, even though they have a somewhat desperate edge to them. "Unworthy," another list song about what the singer should be doing, and the untitled bank song, which ends in an expletive, are humorous only in form; they have very serious points to make. It has been said with some justification that unhappy romance makes for good songwriting (and Tolstoy once wrote that all happy families are alike), but one wishes that Wheeler would try writing a few songs when she is on the upside of one of her romances, not just when they're falling apart.
Sylvia Hotel Review
by William Ruhlmann