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Carolyn Wonderland - Miss Understood

Bismeaux Productions # CD9591

By James “Skyy Dobro” Walker

12 songs; 44:35 minutes; Meritable

True of False: “Blues” is a big house with many rooms.
True or False: Delbert McClinton is a blues artist.
True or False: Genre labels do not matter as long as the music is good.

If you answered “true” to all three quiz questions, then you will enjoy Carolyn Wonderland’s seventh feature release, Miss Understood. Even those who answered “false” to any of the questions will enjoy the amazing first song “Misunderstood.” If you answered “false” to all three, then you will not find the “blues” you seek, beyond the first track.

Featuring Wonderland on down right inspiring lap steel guitar, “Misunderstood,” after just two listens, became my favorite song of 2008 with no one else’s single even close. A wonderland original, the mid-tempo shuffle starts with Carloyn’s lap steel slide bursting a repeated series of catchy notes. But, that ain’t nothing – realized when she creates an intricate mid-song solo. Her ear-perking vocals are in that perfect female register that implies, “I can love you or kill you, either one, if I am not too busy already!”

Do you ever get the feeling that there are so many music artists, past and present, that you will never get to hear (or even “hear of”) them all? Sometimes it is down right embarrassing when a “new” artist comes along, so that I have to ask, “Where have I been?” Carolyn Wonderland presents just such a case. Well known in Texas, familiar to touring mates like Buddy Guy and Johnny Winter, and admired by fans like Bob Dylan, I have just been made aware of her by this album.

Carolyn Wonderland is a singer/songwriter/pianist/ trumpeter/guitarist originally from Houston, Texas. In Houston, she won awards in The Houston Press for everything from Best Guitarist, Female Vocalist, Songwriter, Blues, to Release of the Year and Musician of the Year -- virtually sweeping the awards for five years from the time she was a teenager. Now residing in Austin, Ms. Wonderland says, “I moved to the land of free guitar lessons!”

Wonderland's songs have been featured on NBC's “Homicide” and Fox's “Time of Your Life.”

She likes to incorporate elements of Blues, Country, Swing, Zydeco, Surf, Gospel, Soul, and some nights, maybe even a Cumbia into the musical mix. Stretching out musically, she has recently worked some whistling and scat singing into her shows. In addition to her trusty guitar, ‘Patty,” Carolyn has been regularly playing her trumpet, and even occasionally the accordion, mandolin, or keys.

Miss Understood has plenty of Texas pedigree – witness the producer, Asleep At The Wheel’s Ray Benson and Cindy Cashdollar on dobro. Lloyd Maines, father of Dixie Chicks’ Natalie Maines, guests on five different types of guitars, and Jamie Oldaker drums on some songs. Other guests include Guy Forsyth, Cole El-Saleh, Dave Sanger, Glenn Fukunaga, Jon Blondell, and that is the short list.

One surprise is a cover of Rick Derringer’s “Still Alive and Well.” Full of multi tracked electric guitar by Wonderland, the song rocks and drives with all the punch and fun of the original - think instant flashback and chorus sing-a-long. Another track, “Bad Girl Blues” verges on Country with Maines’ steel guitar and Wes Hightower adding harmony vocals. Throwing some John Mills horns in the mix, “Walk On” is an upbeat number with Wonderland sounding like a lit up Marcia Ball. If you’re gonna play in Texas, you gotta have a fiddle in the band, and “Long Way To Go” does that courtesy of Jason Roberts. How about some lounge-jazz understated guitar behind some bedroom vocals – try “I Don’t Want To Fall For You.” Full production number – yep, on JJ Cale’s “Trouble In The City.” For some blues theme, try “I Live Alone With Someone.”

As you can see, Carolyn Wonderland is no one trick pony. This CD should go far to remove wonder throughout the land about who she is.

James “Skyy Dobro” Walker is a noted Blues writer, DJ and Blues Blast contributor. His weekly radio show “Friends of the Blues” can be heard each Thursday from 4:30 – 6:00pm on WKCC 91.1 FM in Kankakee, IL

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