I have to admit, right off, that until now David Olney was only a name behind some great songs I had heard the wonderful Denice Franke sing. After listening to The Wheel it is easy to see why many of the great singers and songwriters idolize him - put him up on a pedestal with the likes of Townes Van Zandt, Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. And it's no wonder Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou Harris have recorded their own covers of his songs.
The Wheel is Olney's eleventh studio album. It takes us on a journey through both darkness and light, and one that's always in motion. The best way to introduce you to this road we travel down with Olney is to look at some of the songs along the way.
Olney sets the theme right from the start, opening the recording with a dirge-like chant called Wheels. It is a twenty-nine second piece, stark and solemn, sung in Olney's deep, unaccompanied voice.
Big Cadillac rolls out next packed with fiddles and a big guitar sound telling us about the journey towards death, represented by that big American car. It's clearly a song that grabs you by the throat. One of the recording's best tunes.
The theme of circles and wheels is continued in another short tune sung by Carole Edwards in her clear, beautiful alto, singing about stars that run in circles in the a cappella Stars. And we hear her voice again in a snippet of a song called Precious Time, Precious Love as if she is an angel singing to us from the heavens above.
The search for one true love, the turning of the seasons and the hope of living one's life in love is the message of the lovely Now and Forever. This tune features Olney on guitar with Mike Fleming on bass.
Revolution appears at the center of the recording and embodies the themes at its heart. Images of summer changing to autumn, and finally to winter are juxtaposed against images of troops preparing for war:
Even God makes an appearance in the bluesy, rootsy Boss Don't Shoot No Dice, co-written with the great Janis Ian.
A pair of songs about the redeeming power of love, The Girl I Love and All the Love in the World, bring the recording to a close. The final song is a round which repeats all of the a cappella pieces on the disc, four in all - Wheels, Stars, Now I Start and Precious Time, Precious Love - like the spokes in a wheel that have come full circle.
To say that David Olney is an important singer/songwriter and that The Wheel is a necessary addition to any serious listener's collection simply does not say enough. Olney IS American music. His songs speak to themes that are universal, but are also paramount to the American tradition of song begun by Woody Guthrie and popularized by Dylan, Hiatt and Prine, among others. His music needs to be heard and appreciated by a larger audience. The Wheel explores the circular motion of life. May Olney's music come full circle and enrich the lives of all of us for years to come.
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