Cheryl Wheeler with Kenny White
Friday · Jack Quinn's
In the Country and Folk worlds, Cheryl Wheeler has become a songwriter's songwriter, that rare creative breed who somehow manages to come up with a song that touches the hearts (and sometimes the funny bones) of her peers as well as the public. Wheeler was born and raised in Maryland and learned to play guitar and ukulele at an early age, which eventually led to regional club gigs as a young adult where she began to develop her songwriting and performing chops. In the mid-'70s, Wheeler relocated to Rhode Island where she met Folk singer Jonathan Edwards who hired her as his bass player. After her 1983 EP Newport Songs, Wheeler released her self-titled full-length debut in 1986 to overwhelming critical acclaim; two years later, Dan Seals (of England Dan and John Ford Coley fame) covered Wheeler's "Addicted" and made it into a No. 1 Country hit. The same scenario played out again in 1990 when Wheeler signed with Capitol Records and released her third album, Circles and Arrows, which inspired Suzy Bogguss to cover "Aces," a Top 10 hit for both singer and songwriter in 1992. After bouncing around labels for years, Wheeler signed with Rounder in 1993 and has remained with the primarily Folk indie ever since, releasing four albums (1993's Driving Home, 1995's Mrs. Pinocci's Guitar, 1999's Sylvia Hotel and her most recent album, last year's Different Stripe) plus a reissue of Circles and Arrows. Over the course of her career, she has found her songs being covered by people who are equally gifted in the songwriting department (Garth Brooks, Maura O'Connell, Linda Thompson, Juice Newton), a flattering commentary on the level of her song craft. Maintaining a style that can inspire tears and laughter with equal aplomb, as well as lending her talents to a variety of political and societal causes (including gun control), Cheryl Wheeler is one of contemporary Folk's true originals. (Brian Baker)
Phantom Planet with The Thrills
Friday · Jillian's
It would seem Phantom Planet has the whole "triumph in the face of adversity" thing down cold. The band began in L.A. in 1994 and gained a local reputation, piquing the interest of Geffen Records, who released Phantom Planet Is Missing in 1998 to little interest.
After being dropped, Phantom Planet was picked up by Epic who released The Guest in 2001 (reissuing it with bonus tracks in 2002). Almost immediately, Phantom Planet took heat from some quarters as being little more than a band of privilege (with frontman Alexander Greenwald an active actor/model, bassist Sam Farrar the son of a hugely successful songwriter and drummer Jason Schwartzman a lauded young actor from the Coppola family). To counteract their critics, Phantom Planet spent over a year on the road supporting The Guest, honing their Pop/Punk skills to a fine edge through constant touring. The band's persistence paid huge dividends: Their music was used for a variety of film and television projects (including The O.C. and Smallville) and The Guest ultimately hit big. When Phantom Planet finally exited the road in October 2002, they began demoing new songs in Farrar's home studio. After sending the demos to various producers, Dave Fridmann (Flaming Lips, Mercury Rev) responded most positively and expressed an interest in doing the album.
"We were blown away because he's a genius," says Farrar of Fridmann's reaction. "We hung out with him and made a couple of songs and loved the way they turned out and kept going back for two-week segments."
Before the band completed the sessions for their third album, Schwartzman (son of actress Talia Shire, nephew of Francis Ford Coppola and cousin of Sofia Coppola) announced he was leaving Phantom Planet to pursue his acting career exclusively; the band quickly recruited old friend Jeff Conrad to finish the record. Although Schwartzman's work remains on the band's new album, titled simply Phantom Planet, Conrad's depth of experience has opened up a whole new dimension to Phantom Planet's sound.
"I think this is the record we wanted to make," says Farrar. "On the first one, we were still learning what our band was. I think on this record, we know who we are now, and we know what we like doing." (BB)
Weird War with Heartless Bastards and Brass Castle
Saturday · Southgate House
Imagine The Pixies approaching their archly twisted Indie Pop/Punk ethic from a Gospel/Soul perspective, and you'll get the briefest glimpse into the strange world of Weird War. The band's tangled roots go back to the politically charged Punk of Washington, D.C.'s Nation of Ulysses in the late '80s. When NOU called it a day in 1992, vocalist Ian Svenonius, bassist-turned-drummer Steve Gamboa and drummer-turned-guitarist James Canty remained together and formed a new band called Cupid Car Club (as well as MP and the TAMI Show), which then morphed into The Make-Up (with the addition of bassist Michelle Mae). After the release of The Make-Up's brilliant fifth album, 1999's Save Yourself, former Six Finger Satellite guitarist Alex Minoff joined the band for the subsequent tour, which preceded their break up the following summer. Svenonius, Mae and Minoff and drummer Blake Brunner christened themselves Scene Creamers, released a single and began touring, while Svenonius worked on a pair of loosely banded project albums entitled David Candy and Weird War (featuring contributions from Royal Trux's Neil Michael Hagerty, among others). In 2003, the Scene Creamers released the full-length, I Suck On That Emotion, but lost the legal rights to the band's name to a group of French graffiti artists. For the band's most recent album, If You Can't Beat 'Em, Bite 'Em, Svenonius opted to dub the band Weird War after his 2002 album. Through all of the band's recent permutations, Svenonius, Mae and Minoff have remained true to their original vision of creating a bizarre amalgam of Soul, Pop, Electronica and Indie Rock stitched together with a danceable beat, fashioning one of contemporary music's most original bands in the process. (BB)