When released in early 2005, dreamy electric guitar tones opened the 44-minute "Defying Gravity," singer/songwriter Cheryl Wheeler's first studio album since 1999. It was interesting that she chose to title the entire album with the only track that she didn’t write herself – Jesse Winchester’s “Defying Gravity” at track six on her album.
While a singer/songwriter could fall into the trap of rushing out mediocre material to meet self-imposed deadlines, Cheryl's didn’t rush out with “Defying Gravity.” Like Winchester, she’s also known for masterfully crafted songs with colorful lyrics color and intriguing auralscapes. Some of her songs are somber meditations about life, and the “Defying Gravity” CD's jacket gives us all the lyrics to read and reflect upon.
Sung from the heart, Cheryl's themes revolve around loneliness brought on by the death of her father ("Since You've Been Gone"), heartache ("Must Be Sinking Now"), and inner turmoil ("Beyond the Lights"). "Summer's Almost Over" is a sad nostalgic tale of a season changing and time passing. "On the Plane" and "It's the Phone" are both funny and cynical pieces that were recorded live at The Bottom Line in New York.
With wry wit, she's full of humorous lines like "The air that you're breathing's been re-circulating since Orville and Wilbur were boys..." And the song is nice respite even though it was dropped from her set list for quite some time following 9/11. “Alice" describes a hardworking Minnesota campground host and hotel desk clerk who is full of wanderlust. An instrumental, "Clearwater, Florida," allows Cheryl to showcase her fine and delicate fingerpicking.
Somewhat of a concept album, "Defying Gravity" has a more laid-back and somber tone than some previous releases. She seems more serene, thoughtful and introspective with this project. Tasteful use of guitar, percussion, bass, vibes and keyboards permeates the instrumentation.
"Defying Gravity" is a very strong album with plenty of good lyrics and music to ponder. After listening to a nostalgic closing piece like "Blessed," one will want to reflect upon their own childhood memories and of Jesus and his love. Cheryl Wheeler succeeds in motivating, inspiring and entertaining us with her music. And doesn’t every struggling singer/songwriter have a goal of “defying gravity” to succeed in a rough musical environment? Well she clearly has, and now it’s clearer why she may have titled her 2005 album for that Jesse Winchester cover.