Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Mike Wheeler Is A Self Made Man

Having played with a who’s who of the blues world for three decades (including Big James Montgomery and the Chicago Playboys, singer guitarist Mike Wheeler has a new CD on Delmark, Self Made Man. He is joined on this by his band of Brian James on keyboards, Larry Williams on bass and Cleo Cole on drums with young harmonica wiz Omar Coleman added to three tracks. 

Wheeler and band wrote most of the songs and there is only one cover, and provides plenty of fervor in his performs with plenty of drive in his playing and urgency in his impassioned vocals. As evident in the opening Here I Am, there are evident soul and gospel roots to be heard in his vocals (which remind this listener of Michael Hill, although Hill’s singing is cooler). And he writes interesting, fresh songs as on Here I Am where he thanks his woman who lets him back in her life and he has done wrong. Big Mistake is a more traditionally styled song with some interesting twists in its groove a he sings about he made a mistake taking a woman in his life as she is more than he can take. Coleman adds harmonica to the peppy title track, where he notes he is a self-made man who made himself have the blues. In addition to telling his stories, his playing really catches the ear with a jazzy sensibility and his fresh twists and turns.

His soul roots are evident on the topical song, Join Hands with his message of people getting together and help each other as “we the people, together we stand, let’s work together, I know we can … join hands,” playing with fire here. A nice cover of Willie Dixon’s Let Me Love You Baby,, set to the Rollin’ and Tumblin’ melody (therefore sounding different than Buddy Guy’s 60s Chess recording), is followed by You’re Doing Wrong, an West Side styled blues with one of his most impassioned vocals here and searing guitar. Moving Forward has some funk styled guitar (he mentions Eddie Hazel with respect to his playing here) and funk groove. On Chicago Blues, he mentions loving all music but if he has to choose, give him the Chicago blues.

Self Made Man certainly will make many take notice of a very distinctive talent who has a very distinctive approach compared to other contemporary blues acts. Jimmy Johnson is another act who has blended elements of blues and soul and created a very personal approach to the blues and based on Self Made Man,” Wheeler has the talent to produce a similar musical legacy.

I received a review copy from Delmark. Here is a video clip for your enjoyment.

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