Rick Galusha's Pacific St. Blues and Americana

Since inception (1989), Pacific St. Blues & Americana strives to be a discerning voice helping roots fans sift through the mountains of music released every year. We are not for everyone; we want to engage active, critical listeners that hear beyond d'jour. Interviews include: Johnny Winter, Bill Wyman (Rolling Stones), Jerry Wexler, Tommy Shannon & Chris Layton, B.B. King, Dr. John, Robin Trower, Robben Ford, Mato Nanji, Joe Bonamassa, Harry Manx, Sue Foley, Marshall Chess, Billy Lee Riley, Charlie Louvin, Kim Richey, Radney Foster, Eric Johnson, David Clayton Thomas, Al Kooper, Phil Chen (Wired, Blow By Blow), Ian McLagan, Art Neville, Southside Johnny, Miami Steve Van Zant, Nils Lofgren, Bruce Iglauer, Charlie Musselwhite, Studebaker John, Chris Duarte, Smokin' Joe Kubeck, Hamilton Loomis, Peter Karp, Roomful of Blues, James Harman, Hadden Sayers, Malford Milligan, Melvin Taylor, Otis Taylor, Dave Alvin, Coco Montoya, Jimmy Thackery, Marsha Ball, Maria Muldaur, Shelby Lynne, Magic Dick & J. Geils, Lil' Milton, BuddyGuy, Aynsley Lister, Matt Schofield, Susan Tedeschi, Derek Trucks, Guy Clark, Joe Ely, James Cotton, Robin & Jesse Davey, Hugh Coltman (Hoax), Sean Kelly (Samples), John Entwistle (The Who), Mark Olson (Jayhawks), Walter Wolfman Washington, Anthony Gomes, Bob Malone, Chubby Carrier, Buckwheat Zydeco, Murali Coryell, David Jacob Strain, DeAnna Bogart, Michael Lee Firkins, Guy Davis, Jason Ricci, John Doe, Little Feat, Matt Woods, MikeZito, Peter Buffett, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Corky Siegel, Todd Park Mohr, Watermelon Slim, Magic Slim, Corey Harris,- - - - - - ------------------------Radio archives: http://www.kiwrblues.podomatic.com/. Playlists: http://www.omahablues.com/ Reviews featured in http://www.blueswax.com/. Email: KIWRblues@gmail.com Live online; Sundays 9 a.m. (-6 GMT) http://www.897theriver.com/

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Album Review: Carolyn Wonderland

Artist: Carolyn Wonderland
Title: Miss Understood
Writer: Rick Galusha

The Beatles had ‘Sergeant Pepper’; the Stones ‘Exile on Main Street.’ At some point in every band’s career there is a point to create a definitive work of art. Without taking that leap of professionalism the band is more times than not trapped in a cycle of recording the ‘same’ figurative album again and again. (See Boston or Journey) Bruce Springsteen had ‘Born to Run’ and Buddy Guy has ‘Damn Right I Got the Blues.’ With the release of her latest album, ‘Miss Understood’ Houston’s bluesy rock n’ roll actress Carolyn Wonderland, now based in Austin, Texas, is back with an album that could very well mark a significant upturn in her recording efforts.

In many ways Wonderland, fresh off her interlude playing with Bob Dylan, has intentionally embraced the path of another East Texan (Port Arthur) Janis Joplin. Having nurtured an image of hard drinkin’ and fast living Wonderland’s career has, at times, seemed to be a fatal wound in slow motion. One need only watch a couple of VH1 ‘Behind the Music’ programs to realize that substance abuse has ended more than a few thousand promising careers.

‘Miss Understood’ is a very strong and entertaining album that leans more towards ballad than blues: more towards 1968 Austin than 1955 Chicago. Part of that may be due to the production efforts of ‘Asleep at the Wheel’ front man Ray Benson. Tulsa based drummer Jamie Oldaker, who plays on numerous tracks, may also have had an impact on Wonderland and her willingness to take exciting chances. (According to the liner notes in Oldaker’s, “Mad Dogs and Okies” he has had an amazing career including playing with Eric Clapton during his Oklahoma/J.J. Cale period, backing up Peter Frampton (and a post-Kiss Ace Frehley), a member of the multi-platinum band The Tractors, discovered Ronnie Dunn of Brooks & Dunn, and playing at Live Aid including appearing with Phil Collins.) Perhaps as a testament to the new found Carolyn Wonderland she covers ‘Still Alive and Well’ by Rick “Hang on Sloopy” Derringer (Zerringer); a song originally made famous by Beaumont, Texas’s Johnny Winter – who’s own struggles have been epically Richards-ian in scope and length.

The sixth track on the album, “Long Way to Go” with violin and soft accompaniment could have come off John Mellencamp’s transitional album, ‘Scarecrow.’ The album’s closing track, ‘Feed Me to the Lions’ transcends predictable genre as Wonderland successfully reaches for a song of depth and texture. The album’s tenth track, ‘I Live Alone with Someone’ has a Ray Charles, ‘Lonely Avenue’ quality to it and is very radio friendly. The violin accompaniment; Leigh Mahoney and Tracy Seeger of the Tosca String Quartet, is yet again stunning in texture and taste.

On “I Don’t Want to Fall For You” Miss Wonderland employs jazz vocals that go to seemingly unfamiliar territory. Yet the brush snare and piano backing is, well, wonderful. It is refreshing to see an established artist grasp beyond the confine of preconception toward something bigger; something better. Carolyn Wonderland is easily among the finest barroom brawlers in the Midwest floorboard pounding business. Her newest album, ‘Miss Understood’ is the kind of album that any roots and blues music fan will fully enjoy and derive hours of listening enjoyment from for years to come. While listening to this album over the past few weeks I have dared to consider that perhaps Wonderland is charting a course that Janis Joplin, had she lived and matured, may have pursued. We’ll never know but the dobro laden, The Farmer Song’ gives hint to what might have been.

This is an album that most blues fans and all roots music fans should enjoy.

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