Cheryl Wheeler’s voice runs the table in terms of emotion. A singer/songwriter in the new-folk tradition, she teeters on the edge of a full-throated country sound but misses no opportunity to accent or put an emphasis on that one single note that furthers the mood. Plus, I like her politics. “It’s hard to believe,” she sings in “Dubya Dubya” (set to the melody of “Louie Louie”), “that this is what they meant/ When they said that anyone could be President.”
Wheeler, a native of Maryland with a music career that spans nearly three decades, is sometimes billed as a folk singer/comedian. She is funny, but I sense her jokes are a kind of comic relief from the heaviness of her less-funny material. After the Columbine shootings, Wheeler’s “If It Were Up to Me” started getting major airplay, if only for the lyric “I’d take away the guns.”
Onstage, the juxtaposition of funny-tender-sad is arresting. Wheeler is of a jeans-and-T-shirt countenance, rugged, fiftyish, with a shock of unruly hair. Her appearance belies the tenderness of the voice and the intellect that resides below the surface. “Is this peace, or is it Prozac?” she sings. “Is this mellow? Am I a maniac?/ Is my mind out there?/ And can I get it back?” Like the best storytellers, she writes about the human experience in a manner that blurs the boundaries between one person and another. “Darlin’, I miss you more than I’m mad,” she sings. It leaves a listener to wonder: Are the themes in her songs from her life, or is she singing about mine?
CHERYL WHEELER, AcousticMusicSanDiego, Sunday, March 23, 7:30 p.m. 619-303-8176. $22 to $27.