Wendy Wall is back.
Back in 1989, I read about a singer/ songwriter named Wendy Wall, who was releasing her debut album on a major label. I didn’t get the album at that time, but when I found it in a bargain bin a few years later, I couldn’t remember what I had read, but I recognized the name and bought it on spec. That was one of my best buys ever. The album has been a favorite of both my wife’s and mine ever since.
Over the years, I got to wondering what became of Ms. Wall. It was clear that the album must not have sold the way the label wanted, and she was dropped. But surely a talent like this could not vanish completely. But so it seemed. So I was thrilled when I learned that Wall had a new album coming out. And this one does not disappoint.
Where had she been? It turns out that I missed one album, and there was another that was never released. But still, that’s only four albums in twenty years. The songs on The Road to Paradise go a ways towards answering this question.
Wall has been through some very hard times emotionally. Many of the songs here reveal a woman who has found love, but is having a hard time believing in it after so much heartbreak. The album opens with I Woke Up Dreaming; Wall is guarding her emotions here, making metaphysical references in the lyrics as a shield against possible pain. As the album progresses, the lyrics show her discovering that she has found love. Her reactions range from “here we go again” to “at last”. And there is not a straight line to a happy ending; progress towards acceptance and joy is messy here as it is in life. I get the sense that Wall is getting there, but she’s still working on it as the album closes. But she’s winning.
For me, Back in April could be the statement of theme for the album. From the vantage point of late summer, Wall’s narrator remembers the emotional thaw she experienced in the spring, after a long frozen winter. She uses the metaphor of the first flowers and tree buds of the year to describe both her sense of caution, and the joy of new life. I’ve never heard this put better.
Musically, Fool’s Gold stands out from the rest of the songs on the album. The song uses a rhythm similar to Stray Cat Strut in a mostly acoustic arrangement. Otherwise, the album features mid-tempo ballads with acoustic guitar, light electric guitar, bass, and drums. There are ocassional piano, mandolin, or banjo parts for flavor. But the album is not boring musically. Rather, this is a set of consistently good songs, with one change of mood that works very well. And Wendy Wall has a marvelous voice. Usually, I don’t like vibrato. It is often a symptom of oversinging. But Wall has a subtle vibrato which makes her voice shimmer. It’s a very unusual effect, and it sounds great.
So Wall has been in an emotional space which kept her from making music. Now, she is feeling better, and she is making music again. With any luck, her happiness will continue, and we will get to hear her more than three times in the next twenty years.
Wendy Wall: Back in April
Wendy Wall: Fool‘s Gold