Righteous lyrics, strong pop hooks, polished studio technique, and impassioned vocals -- that's four for four, a winning percentage in anyone's game. For Sheila Nicholls these elements conspire to turn Wake into a winner. While her sermonizing can border on cliché ("Love is what we came here for") or get a little annoying ("Do you have purpose, or are you just paying off mortgage?"), there's no denying the conviction that she pours into it or the creativity with which she packages her thoughts. On "Maze," for instance, she follows a familiar theme of hers -- fear of growing up and out of innocence -- through, appropriately, a series of enigmatic chord changes, with textures ballooning from intimate piano up to orchestral episodes. Another excoriation of post-teenage realities, "Seven Fat Englishmen" is presented with such an intriguing blend of dissonant acoustic guitar and chamber strings that if there were a gin-swilling fat Englishman sawing away in this group, he'd probably still enjoy the gig. As if that weren't enough to distinguish these performances, Nicholls throws a couple of curves designed to catch the napping listener by surprise: a single, full-voiced salsa piano chord spins "Ruby" into a completely unexpected direction, down to Latin rhythmic references that otherwise would have seemed out of place. Frankly, there isn't a weak track on Wake. By irritating and inspiring in equal measure, they more than prove their merit.
by Robert L. Doerschuk