reviews

updated 12/1/99

 

THE SCENE TONIGHT - feature article in St. Paul Pioneer Press

brenda weiler
background...
it wasn't until her senior year of high school in 1996 that Brenda Weiler decided she wanted to learn to play the guitar and write songs. The folk artist never expected to find the success she enjoys today. After playing a few gigs in her hometown of Fargo in '96, Weiler, now 22, decided to make a tape of some of her songs to sell off the stage after performances. Soon her fans were demanding more, and Weiler made her first recording, "trickle down."

Last January she released her second album, crazy happy, and soon after was picked up by local distributors Peppermint Records, which also represents such other singer/songwriters as John Hermanson, Stuart Davis, Billy McLaughlin and Peter Mayer. The young woman who remembers wearing her brother's Jesus and Mary Chain T-shirt to school when she was a fourth-grader because she thought it "looked cool," now finds herself playing coffee houses and bars around the country. She was even able to quit her day job, making her music a full-time affair.

recordings...Weiler has two albums out on the Fargo label Barking Dog Records, "trickle down" and "crazy happy"

While she was in high school, Weiler admits to listening mainly to women artists such as Patty Griffin, Liz Phair, Tori Amos and others. Now, she says her musical tastes have expanded to include the likes of Moby, Pearl Jam and plenty of classical music. Along with the musical aspect of her career, Weiler also finds the relationship with her audiences to be a great source of satisfaction.

"When I go out and play shows that are mostly in small to medium-size coffee houses, I get really intimate settings and the people are like 5 feet away from me," Weiler says. "I'm just singing about things that I think a lot of people can relate to. The connection I feel with people is really intense sometimes. I've had a few instances when women, younger and older, would some up to me crying afterward -- it's amazing to me and completely overwhelming. I go home and think that's why I'm doing it, because someone is getting something out of it and it's not just me."

review...What's really striking about Weiler is her ability to make the most personal situations accessible to the listener.

While listening to Weiler, especially live, her brutal honesty is almost uncomfortable to the listener because, at some points, it's almost as if Weiler has peeked into your life and read your most private journal. When she sings "I don't hink I'm strong enough/ I don't think I can win/ This game isn't fun for me/ If I call you up, then I just give in" and. later, "It kills me to know what I gave away/ I laid myself down/ I got naked with you" from the song, "Pretty Face," you can feel the shame, pain and pure regret that was felt in the situation. Most important, Weiler lets that vulnerability and weakness flow through her voice -- it's the tone as much as the words that make this one of her strongest songs. On the old traditional "Poor Me," Weiler's clear, emotional vocals again cry out for understanding, making the song a very rich experience.

Along with relationship issues, Weiler tackles body image and the lack of acceptance that many young women feel about their bodies. The song "Change" ("Your thighs are as small as your arms/ But they're not supposed to be") and "Sweet Lullaby" ("I've got my mother's hips/ They're eight miles wide/ They're not something that I flaunt but they're not something that I hide") both intelligently deal with the constant struggle women have with accepting what their bodies look like. Weiler addresses the issues with a complete openness that leads to powerful songs that ultimately touch the heart of the listener as well as the mind.

St. Paul Pioneer Press, St Paul, MN; October 6, 1999

 


 

crazy happy review in Market Penetration, Canada's Student Website

If the thought of listening to one more "artist" whose pounding music drowns out any attempt at vocalization makes you shudder, then take a listen to the pure, raw folk musicianship on Brenda Weiler's new album crazy happy. Weiler's musical style and lyrics reflect an intelligent, grounded and secure person who won't have to spend her career pleading with the media to believe how smart she really is. They'll already know.

Compared to Weiler's debut album, trickle down, crazy happy picks up the pace a bit. trickle down is stripped of everything but a girl and her guitar but crazy happy delivers the girl, her guitar and the welcome addition of percussion, organs and bass, adding new flavour to Weiler's style. "Tease," the first song on the CD begins with a laugh and it's only indicative of good things to come. Melissa Etheridge influences can be heard on this song, but that's not a bad thing.

Of course, comparisons to other folk/rock artists will arise, but the one striking similarity between Weiler and Etheridge is their talent for using gender-free situations. The "I" and "You" replace "He" and "She," and the result is music both men and women can identify with. Weiler's lyrics also contain the wit, humour and intensity of a sharp observer who holds nothing back when describing a situation, exemplified in the song "Willing:" "I can't talk, I can't breathe/cause your tongue's in my mouth/I can't find my bra, I think it's somewhere in your couch."

This edgy folk chanteuse will have you laughing one minute on "Sweet Lullaby" ("I've got my mother's hips/they're eight miles wide/they're not something that I flaunt but they're not something that I hide"). And singing along with the resonating "Poor Me" the next minute ("Poor me/trouble will bury me down").

The Fargo, North Dakota native and mainstay on the American college/coffee house circuit has a sound likely best appreciated in one of these intimate settings. Hopefully, it's only a matter of time before Weiler hits Canadian campuses. And when she does, be here. I bet you won't be disappointed.

Candace Korchinsky, Market Penetration, Canada's Student Website. November 14, 1999

 



from the Los Angeles independent 'zine "Potpourri & Roses"

"While most of her songs on crazy happy are still folky, Brenda Weiler picks up the pace and brings in some good beats on "Weave My Way," "Change," "Sweet Lullaby" and she really lets loose and rocks out on "Pretty Face." Vocally, Weiler has become incredibly soulful, not relying so much on just her pretty voice. "Willing," "Poor Me," and "Anyway" (which also has some beautiful harmonies) really capture her vocal range. On "Jordan," a song she wrote for her dad, she showcases not only her vocal talent, but also her piano and cello playing skills. Lyrically, she has also stretched beyond her previous boundaries, venturing into humorous lyrics in "Weave My Way" with "I can't talk, I can't breathe/ cause your tongue's in my mouth/ I can't find my bra, I think it's somewhere in your couch." Weiler certainly has the talent to rise up to her Lilith Fair counterparts but shhhh, don't tell the committee she's singing funny songs about womanhood, it's supposed to be tragic.

reviewer CGD, Potpourri & Roses, Los Angeles, CA, June/July 1999 - distributed nationally

 

Rising Voices

"If the people won't come to the music, take the music to the people. That might be the mantra of Minnesotan Brenda Weiler, an up-and-coming songer/songwriter whose vice is poised to emerge above the commercial din. Weiler with stop in Spokane for two gigs on Sunday...Recording on a grassroots label (Barking Dog Records) and performing on a rigorous coffee house tour around the country, Weiler embodies the spirit of indie-celeb Ani DiFranco, while crafting music in the tradition of folkies like Dar Williams and Tracy Chapman. And it's beginning to pay off. She recently got a nod in her home state by being nominated for both Folk Artist of the Year and Folk Recording of the Year (for her newest, crazy happy). Not surprising. Weiler's spirited and skillful fretwork is equalled only by her expressive voice and forthright, intimate songwriting tinged wih humor."

Pacific Northwest Inlander, Spokane, WA, June 1999

 

Our Critic's Hot Picks for the Week

"The Dragonfly Cafe is turning into the hot new place to see acoustic music, with locals like Eddy Zenn as well as people like the eclectic Ivan Klipstein from Madison, WI, and his Beckish ways. This week catch Minneapolis sensation Brenda Weiler, recently nominated by the Minnesota Music Association as Folk Artist of the Year, and Minnesota Folk Recording of the Year for her new release, crazy happy. Now, they know their folk music up there, when you consider that a certain Mr. Dylan who recently visited us hails from up there. Weiler's music has been compared to Ani DiFranco, as vociferous without some of the latter's more strident qualities.

"But Weiler has her own vocal persona, confident and assured enough to fill the intimate interior of the Salt Lake City locale. 'You say I'm only one step away,' she sings, and it could be she's not far from folk stardom."

Salt Lake City Weekly, Salt Lake City, UT, June 1999

 

Daily Pick

"There are worse artists to be compared to than Ani DiFranco -- and that's just one of the names usually dropped in Brenda Weiler reviews: 'Brenda Weiler has created a solid album of thoughtful tunes on her debut CD. Weiler explores the topics of identity, independence and relationships wihout sounding too wordy. The upbeat 'Dancer' portrays Weiler's whimsical side, while '5,000 Miles' stands out as a sweet ballad. With hints of Dar Williams and Tracy Chapman, Weiler's bright voice is the attraction here. Performing with only a guitar--except for a few songs that include percussion and bass--Brenda Weiler is someone to watch.' That was DIRTY LINEN talking about last year's trickle down, an all-around critical hit. This year's model, crazy happy (Barking Dog Records), was released just a couple of months ago and is already piling up the positive clippings. The Fargo, ND native grew up listening to and performing classical music, playing cello in school orchestras from fifth grade throgh high school. Although she remembers listening to her older siblings' U2, REM and Wallets albums, recordings by Tracy Chapman and Paul Simon given to her as a gift when she was 10 inspired her to write songs. Now barely into her 20s and a two-album, on-year touring veteran of colleges and coffee houses, Weiler still has surprises on the road. "One night -- it was in Omaha, I think -- a woman came up to me crying after hearing 'This Voice.' It was pretty bizarre,' she says. 'I mean, it's awasome, but it's also overwhelming.' Bring your hankies."

The Event Newsweekly, Salt Lake City, UT, June 1999

 

Songs mix humor and honesty

"Listening to Bellingham's Tracy Spring in concert a couple of weeks ago, one listener commented, "What really sets Tracy apart from other vocalists is the quality of her voice; it's unique and so beautiful for the songs she sings."

"The same could be said for North Dakota guitarist andvocalist Brenda Weiler. Now on her first West Coast tour, Weiler performs at 8:00 pm Friday at the Cookie Cafe.

"She counts Mozart among her influences for melody. But then, she's the daughter of a music professor at North Dakota State University. Weiler is not another Jewel, Ani DiFranco or Tracy Chapman, although she's been compared to them by the media. Her voice is not a soulful, hard-edged, gutsy, angst-filled plea for pity. Weiler actually laughs at life sometimes. Her voice is powerful, but sweet. She pens tunes about society's obsession with a woman's body image, she sings about relationships.

"Weiler's second CD, crazy happy, is a thoughtful compilation of her honest, humorous and melodic songs - sometimes highly rhythmic, sometimes ballad-esque, with titles like 'Pretty Face,' 'In the Morning' and 'Change,' songs that have been described as emotionally rich."

The Bellingham Herald - noteworthy events - Bellingham, WA, June 1999

 


Twin Towns' Tunes

"Once in a blue moon, an album arrives with so much passion and vulnerability it demands undivided attention. The record industry has yet to come up with a parental-warning for such releases, but a spin through the CD player seems to scream, "How dare you leave me in the background!" Such is the case with Brenda Weiler's sophomore effort; a listen to crazy happy holds both the unnerving rush of thumbing through a stranger's journal and the warm comfort of finding your own thoughts and feelings in someone else's words.

"Though her songs explore a fairly well worn subject-the deceptively simple struggle to find happiness-their beauty comes from Weiler's fearless intimacy. From 'Willing's awkward surrender to romance ('You taste just like I thought you would/You feel alright by me/It's been awhile for me you know/but I'm willing to let things just be') to 'Changes' harsh look at body image ('Why do you feel you should change?/What did your mother teach you?/Your thighs are as small as your arms/ but they're not supoosed to be'), her unflinching candor remains the heart of this album.

"Shifting gracefully from an Ani DiFranco-like bounce to somber a cappella tones, Weiler displays not only a strong vocal range but a gift for melody that entices listeners into her songs. The album's tight production ties everything together, keeping the strength of her guitar and vocals intact amongst the bass, organ, and drums that surround them. Equal parts sorrow and outright joy, crazy happy stands out as one of the most moving works to arise from the local music scene all year."

--Bill Snyder, Twin Cities Revue, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, May 27, 1999


Live Review

"...There's only one thing stopping this show from being an amazing acoustic double bill: It's actually two separate shows. They are, however, in the same space on the same evening, so be advised to show up early and stay late...As for Weiler, the relative newcomer to the Twin Towns has been building up a following at a breakneck pace. Deservedly so. Her sophomore effort, crazy happy (Barking Dog Records), can play hardball with any local releases of the year. Weiler writes and sings with such a remarkable openness that listening to her music feels sort of like spying on her journal. She hits all the raw nerves and does so with a wisdom that exceeds her years. Hook all that up with her gift for beautiful melodies, and you better bet she's one to watch."

-- Revue, Minneapolis/St Paul, May 13, 1999


CD Review: crazy happy

"Everyone has called her another 'someone' or said she's a blend of this artist and that artist; add a little (fill in the blank) and you've got Brenda Weiler. Well, it's true-it's all true, so there. What are you going to do about it? I mean really, Dirty Linen already pegged Weiler as someone to watch in the contemporary folk scene and she is. But since there have been more than enough comparisons made, I won't bother to put any names on her myself.

"Weiler's second album, crazy happy, is the follow up to 1997's trickle down, both on Barking Dog Records. Weiler's voice is one of the sweetest flowing I've heard in a long time. When she breathes, the air probably sounds sweet. The effortless notes fall off her tongue amd twist around a feeling like a sheet in the breeze or a good country twang. Weiler knows how to maneuver her guitar just as well as her well-oiled vocal chords.

"OK, so I am going to break my own rule (and so soon too!)- sorry to say but (big but), some of Weiler's songs are highly reminiscent of that other twentysomething powerhouse Ani DiFranco. Weiler's first cut, "Tease," opens like the run-off from an Ani DiFranco tune. Still, "Tease" proves to be one of the strongest songs on the album; it gives us a taste of the rest and shows us how Weiler's voice has become richer and her guitar more compelling since trickle down. I am capable of falling into this album while listening to it, but again, Weiler's lyrics, however poignant, fall short of deep and almost come off as clichéd in a few songs. "One Step Away" has decadent vocals that the music only augments, but the lyrics ("Now that I've just up and left you/I'm thinking I want you even more") fail to match up to her other amazing attributes.

"Truth is, I can only see her lyrics aging with the keenest of senses as she gets sucked deeper into the world of recording. If you don't mind waiting for the lyrics to grow up with the girl, fine. At this stage, it's possible to overlook them for everything else this album holds. You're still getting incredible vocals and amazing guitar work. Who knows, maybe we're all so inundated with cuss words, dementia and angry girl music that we could use a break from the angst and turmoil."

--Peggy J. VanDuyne, Pulse, Minneapolis, MN, March 24, 1999


CD Review: crazy happy

"Brenda Weiler is hyped as the next big thing out of the midwest, an 'accessible' Ani DiFranco (my apologies to Ani). Well, she is all that, and a bag of chips. Brenda epitomizes the type of performer I enjoy most in the music world. Not only does she have a great voice, and the ability to play several instruments and play them well, but she is a songwriter whose music is so forthright as to make the listener both a little uncomfortable while at the same time wanting more. Sure, she is twenty-one, and has a lot of living to do, but she seems to have a very good perspective on her life to date. One thing Brenda is not a part of is the plaintive-woman movement so common on today's corporate radio, in which the only focuses in a woman's life are The Relationship and The Guy. In her record you get the whole person, complete with a sense of humor. As a guy with a guy's version of maternal hips, I can laugh with the lyrics 'I have my mother's hips/They're eight miles wide/They're not something that I flaunt/They're not something that I hide.' Thank god she is not Barbie-esque. Who she could be is an every-woman hero, and a lover's text book on their opposite's perspective. crazy happy takes you through the Brenda experience, in the sensuality of 'Willing' and 'Weave My Way,' a coming-of-age exploration in 'Jordan,' the tumbling dive of the anger in 'Sweet Lullaby' and pathos of 'Pretty Face,' emerging only a little worse for wear in 'In the Morning.' A deftly arranged album indeed. "'Change' is the only song that doesn't quite deliver. Written as a rebuke to the social modeling of women, the song's bite doesn't hurt as much as it should. This may be because the song doesn't seem as personal an effort as the rest of the record. Regardless, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for Brenda's tour dates, and her next effort. Brenda Weiler won't be in the small venues much longer."

--Christopher Weiss, Toast, April, 1999


A vibrant, ripe and fresh folk style

"Softly piercing you right where it counts, brenda Weiler's soul-searching style doesn't end with her own discoveries, it extends to anyone lucky enough to have left his or her ears open.

"By the age of 18, she had already opened for folk master Richie Havens, and now, only three years later, she's been compared with Ani DiFranco and Tracy Chapman.

"Much more than just a pretty voice, Weiler pleases the listener's physical, audible needs while tapping into much harder elements to please, the intellect, with a sugar-coated message that isn't always so sweet. Touring the Midwest constantly, she brings forth an honest folk style that is ripe and fresh.

"Toting a vibrant voice, Weiler hits upon the all-too-familiar life and love topics, only she brings a more positively oriented lyrical style to her folk music that sets her a quarter-step away from her contemporaries.

"Recently, Weiler released her second album, crazy happy, preceded by her critically acclaimed debut trickle down. Weiler will be playing at the Mill Restaurant tonight at 9, along with folk entrepreneur John Hermanson. The Daily Iowan had the opportunity to catch up with Weiler for an interview:

"DI: You've been described as almost reminiscent of Ani DiFranco, Tracy Chapman and Dar Williams-does that put any pressure on you?

"Weiler: No, not pressure. i'm flattered that people compare me with them, because they're influences. It's nice to that effect, but it's hard to try to distinguish myself from them, because people expect me to be just like them right away. but overall, it's a good thing.

"DI: In traditional folk-fashion, you're usually armed with just an acoustic guitar. With that degree of solitude on stage, do you enjoy the smaller coffehouses and clubs to larger events?

"Weiler: It depends. it's very nerve racking (with larger events). It's pretty empowering to be able to stand up there by myself and do it. I think I get a lot more out of it personally when I play in smaller coffee shops, where people are sitting really close to me and I know that they're listening. I don't know, there's just something about that connection.

"DI: What's your take on the current state of folk music as far as popularilty goes; have you noticed any fluctuation in interest in recent years?

"Weiler: For me personally, I've had larger crowds in the last year, but then again, I've only been on tour for a year. I've been seeing a lot of interest. I'm constantly trying to pick up on the latest folk music. It's certainly not dying. There's something about folk music that sets it apart from other genres.

"DI:Some people have said that what makes you so special is that you leave a lot of anger and hate out of a music genre known for continual outbursts of protest-do you agree with this or have any thoughts about it?

"Weiler: I try not to write too much about that. It's been done. It's easier to write when you're depressed or angry. I think in the beginning I was sort of that way, but now I try to be much more positive.

"DI: You'll be playing with John Hermanson here in Iowa City. How do you describe his music?

"Weiler: I wouldn't call it aggressive. The stuff he did with "Storyhill" and "Chris & Johnny," that's pretty folky stuff. His newer stuff has a lot of orchestration. It's more than just traditional folk, maybe like folk-rock with a little pop.

"DI: Anything big in your up-coming future?

"Weiler: I'm planning a West Coast tour from May to July. I've never done that; I've only toured in the Midwest. So for me, that's exciting. Other than that, I'm going to keep writing, try to get another album out, and just play it by ear.

--Jim Mack, The Daily Iowan, Iowa City, Iowa, April 1, 1999


Not your typical folk music

"If Ani DeFranco's new record sounds too experimental, Fargo native Brenda Weiler's latest release, crazy happy, offers a more traditional interpretation of folk-rock. With only an acoustic guitar and a subtle, light rhythm section on a few tracks, Weiler creates a thoughful, solid album that, at times, becomes sadly introspective and mildly hostile.

"Following Weiler's first album, trickle down, her latest release confirms Weiler as a rising star. Indeed, all the recent buzz surrounding her work is justified and well deserved. Throughout crazy happy, she explores issues of identity, independence and relationships-topics that just about any college-aged person can relate to. In 'Weave My Way,' she sings about a failing relationship and says, 'I need to hear how wonderful you think I am/ cause I forget what it is about me that draws you in.'

"In 'Sweet Lullaby,' Weiler writes an anthem for the disenfranchised as she says, 'I live like I want to/like how she taught me to be/and your phone number is just one thing that means nothing to me.' All of her songs are emotionally rich, taking the listener on a journey through haunting narratives, such as 'Jordan,' and pleading diaries of a hurt soul, such as 'Willing.'

"Her guitar playing is sharp, steady and crisp, with a complex rhythmic structure which fills her songs with life, vigor and emotion. Although she doesn't use as many guitar hooks as she did in her first album, her playing is still skillful and sophisticated. Reminiscent of Tracy Chapman and Jewel, her intimate, stunning vocals exude confidence. Her melodies are dreamy yet forceful, and they compliment every line she sings.

"The recording quality of the album is also very rich. Producers Weiler and Mike Coates decided to record the album live in the studio--meaning Weiler was recorded singing and playing guitar along with her rhythm section with no overdubs or editing With this strategy, Weiler was able to achieve a live, intense, impromtu feeling for the album-characteristics that typify her live shows. In fact, 'Pretty Face' was recorded in just one take.

Overall, Weiler shows a maturity and talent not often seen from solo acoustic singer-songwriters. She shines in a performance setting and tours full time throughout the Midwest, performing at colleges, festivals, clubs, galleries and coffeehouses.

She will play an acoustic set at Dunn Brothers coffeehouse, located on Grand Ave., tomorrow night at 7:30.

--B.J. Nodzon, The Aquin (The University of St. Thomas paper), St. Paul, MN, February 26, 1999


Song of Herself

Though the image of a woman and her guitar has been exploited by so-called "artists" such as Jewel, corporatized by the well-intentioned yet obnoxiously meaningless Lilith Fair, and overexposed in general, it is important not to write off every woman with a guitar as just another, well, woman with a guitar.

True, the barrage of Ani DiFranco influenced, folk-rock women is a bit out of control, but what separates DiFranco from her counterparts is the fact that not only does she have musical talent and a knack for wordplay, but she actually has something to say--and she says it in a way that is both powerful and beautiful. The same can be said for Brenda Weiler, a Fargo native turned Minneapolis resident, who recently released her second album, crazy happy (Barking Dog).

Weiler's affection for lyrical folk-rock has generated comparisons to every well-known folk singer in the book (with Ms. DiFranco topping the list), but she's not just another wannabe; this girl's got talent. Her execution is a bit timid at times, and not all of her lyrics are exactly insightful ("I've got my mother's hips, yeah/ they're eight miles wide" from "Sweet Lullaby"), but one listen to Weiler's rendition of the traditional spiritual, "Poor Me" tells you all you need to know: not only can she sing, but her heart's in it too.

Having moved to Minneapolis shortly after graduating from high school, Weiler spent only a few months on the open mic cicuit before getting signed to Barking Dog Records and releasing her first album, trickle down, in late '97. Now,21 years old with two records under her belt, Weiler says things are moving along pretty well.

"I'm really comfortable with where I'm going," she says. "It just feels right."

Recorded live in the studio, crazy happy captures the musician's straightforward performance style-a priority for Weiler, who also helped produce the album. "I was very adamant about capturing the live feeling that I have on stage," Weiler says. "The energy is a lot higher (than on trickle down)."

One of the most noiceable differences between Weiler and many of the other guitar-strumming women of the '90s is that she's just not as mad. "In the very beginning," Weiler says, "when I first started writing, it was all based on being angry...but I think there's something to be said for recovering."

Of course, she isn't completely content. She may sing sweetly about love on songs like "Weave My Way" ("You make me want to smile all the time"), but she's not afraid to make a statement either. On "Change," Weiler condemns the nation's obsession with body image and its consequences, with lines such as "Your thighs are as small as your arms/they're not supposed to be." No matter what she's singing about, however, Weiler's performance is emotive and forceful throughout.

So despite the suspicion you may feel toward yet another woman with an acoustic guitar and more songs about relationships, Weiler deserves your attention. She may not be doing anything innately innovative, but she's good at what she does, and that's a lot more than I can say about most of her contemporaries.

--Katharine Kelly, The Minnesota Daily (University of Minnesota), Minneapolis, MN, January 28, 1999


Top Honors

Folk-rock singer/songwriter Brenda Weiler takes Top Honors for Demorama this time around without much trouble. This young woman is blessed with a powerful, sweetly sincere voice that compliments her choosen genre to the T. Frankly, it's been a long time since I've been so impressed with an individual's singing voice. Her use of vocal accents and her strong melodic sense make this release a real standout. Furthermore, her acoustic guitar work shines consistently. Simply put, this release is unbelievably good. If you love folk rock, you'll have a pretty big hole in your collection until you pick up this disc. Weiler will be performing live around the Twin Cities during February, March and April (visit the Barking Dog Records website for dates). I've got a strong hunch her live shows will be excellent, and I'll be there for a couple of shows to watch Weiler prove my hunch correct.

-- Deneen Gannon, Demorama, February 2, 1999


Crowd Noise: CD Parties

The fledgling Barking Dog label, based in Fargo, N.D., brought 3 Minute Hero to the attention of Twin Cities hipsters. Now comes the second record by singer/songwriter Brenda Weiler. By turns sadly introspective and mildly venomous, crazy happy includes softly brushed a capella as well as folkie tracks infused with Irish rhythms (helped by former Sinead O'Connor and Van Morrison drummer Peter Niblock). She'll open next week for Sticky Z and 6 Mile Grove.

--Vickie Gilmer, Star Tribune, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, January 29, 1999


 

Hot Tickets mention--Brenda Weiler @ Ginkgo Coffeehouse

North Dakota songstress Brenda Weiler celebrates the release of her new Barking Dog Records CD, crazy happy, tonight and then again Saturday at O'gara's. Confessional but rarely self-pitying, Weiler's new disc marks a leap in maturity and intelligence from her promising debut, trickle down. One to watch. The always enjoyable Katy Tessman opens.

--Keith Harris, Pulse, Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, January 27-February 2, 1999


Sure, there's a voice

Singer-songwriter Brenda Weiler has interesting music to offer, as well

On the phone, Brenda Weiler seemed quiet and shy. On her debut album, though, backed by little more than her acoustic guitar, she is more forthright. She demands to be listened to. Folk legend Richie Havens, who certainly has the credentials to make judgments on these sorts of things, chalked it up to her voice ("So you're the little girl with the big voice!"). Lucy Kaplansky--and really, who's to argue?--has called it "incredible."

Still, lots of folks have great voices. There's Jewel, who's living proof, however unfortunate, that maybe that's all you need. What marks Weiler's 1997 debut, trickle down, as being something different, something infinitely more interesting, is the musical intelligence behind her songs. "I grew up listening to a lot of classical music," Weiler, whose father is a professor of music at North Dakota State University in Fargo, said. "Listening to Mozart especially has given me a good ear for melody."

Admittedly, Mozart is not the first influence that jumps to mind when thinking about any folksinger (in Weiler's case, it would be easier to drop the usual cast of names: Ani, Dar, Tracy). But listen again to a song like "Scrub." The melody is sure but subtle--nothing to hum along to, at least not at first. But subtlety gives a song space to breathe and room to build. Marvelously paced, "Scrub" waits five and a half minutes to pay off, and when it does, when Weiler croons, "All you want is right here," it's the kind of moment that stops you from whatever you're doing. It's the kind of moment that makes an album. And there's plenty of those on trickle down.

All the more amazing, perhaps, that Weiler is just two years out of high school. "I graduated in 1996, picked up a guitar and started writing," she said. "My first show was the following October." And it was just a year after that that she was invited by Fargo indie-label Barking Dog Records to record her first CD. "It was really hard," Weiler said about the decision to pursue music full-time. "When they came to me to record the first album, that was a tough decision. I had only been playing for a year, doing open mics and coffee shops." Since then, however, she opened for such heavyweights as Greg Brown, Dar Williams and Martin Zellar, and already she's halfway through album number two.

Weiler can even claim half the production credit for trickle down. The album defines spare, and yet it's beautifully arranged. Harmony vocals, organ or cello are added into the mix in a balanced and tasteful way. "A lot of that was up to me," Weiler said. "I had a lot of artistic freedom and I was pretty stubborn about it because I had these songs pretty much set in stone already."

Weiler said that most of her songs are founded on personal experience. "They're mostly relationship songs," she said, "with lots of feelings." And it must be conceded that a few of trickle down's songs betray her youth. For instance, Weiler doesn't quite pull off lines like, "But I really do and if you say you don't/I say 'yeah right, whatever.'" (It's frustrating that a word like "whatever" has become a generational battle cry.) There are other places on the album where Weiler rails against mainstream ideas of beauty ("Whoever got the idea that beauty is right?/That my butt and my belly are meant to be tight") and it ends up sounding a bit cliché.

On the other hand, there's the album's last song, "This Voice." Written in the second person, the song addresses a woman trapped inside of an abusive relationship: "There's this voice inside you/Screaming out for more/There's this voice inside you/Screaming out, 'I need more.'" The empathy of the lyrics are matched up perfectly with the almost desperate monotone of the melody, creating a song powerful enought to have made at least one audience member actually break into tears.

"I try to play shows so that, by the end of the night, I can get people to listen," Weiler said. "One night--it was in Omaha, I think--one woman came up to me crying after hearing 'This Voice.' It was pretty bizarre. I mean, it's awesome, but it's also overwhelming."

--Brendan Wolfe, ICON, Iowa City/Cedar Rapids, IA, December 3, 1998


A crazy happy new album...

The crown jewel of the Fargo based Barking Dog Records has just emerged from Raptor Studios with her second album. Fargo native Brenda Weiler has followed up her highly touted debut 'Trickle Down' with a bigger, more dynamic sounding sophomore release titled crazy happy.

"It was a lot easier for me this time because I knew what I was doing," Weiler said in a phone interview from Fargo. "I had more ideas going into it-the sound, all the graphic design. it was all in my head before I entered the studio."

The largest improvement Weiler has made was bringing in backing musicians to compliment her strong voice and humanistic song-writing ability. Recorded "live in the studio," the album still captures the same personal touch that made 'Trickle Down' an emotional insight into Weiler's life. "I was a little nervous (about recording with other musicians), but it really went well," Weiler said. "They were all really good musicians and they had a good sense of what I was about."

What is Weiler about?

"The main thing is that I try to be as honest as I can when I write," Weiler said. "I think people connect with that." Weiler, who stated the addition of background musicians makes crazy happy better than her first album, has opened the door of possibility with a follow-up album that musically surpasses her first. One can't help but draw comparisons with her and other female folk/rock singers who have made an impact at the national level. Weiler's voice and music are similar to that of Ani Difranco and to a lesser extent Jewel.

In a slight twist of irony, DiFranco's soon to be released CD "Up Up Up Up Up Up" contains a song that shares the same name as Weiler's first album trickle down. "I had heard that," Weiler said. "It's kind of funny. I had a friend of mine who went to the Winnipeg Folk Festival. He had a press pass because he was writing for some magazine and he got backstage. He tried slipping her my CD but she told him that she already had it."

The next step for Weiler is to continue the advancement of her career. As soon as she finishes up the tour and promotional support for crazy happy she may disappear from the Midwest for a while. "Right after the second CD was done I began looking back at the last year and it felt good,"Weiler said. "My goal was to make my first CD by the time I was 20 and I did that. Then it was to make another album within a year or so and I did that."

As for the future...

"I want to continue touring to pay the rent," Weiler said. "I would also like to tour outside the Midwest. There's so much space to cover. I want to try and get out to the West Coast."

It seems that wherever Weiler ends up and whatever she continues to do, we probably haven't seen the last of her yet. crazy happy, which will make its public debut at the Westward Ho Gaslight Lounge Thursday January 14th, is just another step in the right direction for this young up-and-coming artist.

--John Kjorstad, The DAKOTA STUDENT, University of North Dakota, Grand Forks, ND; January 8, 1999


Weiler teases the crowd with new maturity

Fargo native Brenda Weiler let the public have a live taste of her new CD crazy happy at the CD release party Sunday night at the Plains Art Museum. The event kicks off a series of events to be held Sunday nights titled "Slams and Jams" when local artists and poets will strut their stuff in a two hour slot flowing with local creative talent.

crazy happy follows Weiler's first album trickle down. Sure, the one was good, but crazy happy confirms Weiler isn't a passing talent. All the buzz around this woman is justified. Weiler's live-performance persona has developed from a shy little girl hiding behind her guitar to a woman able to charm her audience with a laugh and a sideways glance.

The first track, 'Tease,' is like Weiler in a see-through dress. It's a mature sound that slides off to the sexy side. Brenda gets kind of naughty here, but without over-exposing herself. She plays with a wide range and pulls it off beautifully.

The short and sweet 'Willing' adds a very personal effect. This song, comprised of just Weiler and her guitar, is proof she had creative freedom while recording. It's perfectly developed. While most artists would have pushed for more length, Weiler just let it lie, and it worked. The minute-and-a-half song is a great bridge to the funky 'Weave My Way.'

The audience at The Plains loved this one. She is accompanied by the bongos, which give it an upbeat, dancy feel. Weiler received claps of approval, and probably understanding, from The Plains crowd when she sang "I can't find my bra. I thinkit's somewhere in your couch." Once again Weiler came through with her new sexier image.

One of the best songs on crazy happy is 'Poor Me.' Weiler called this song a spiritual. It does have a reflective sense to it. She belts it out soulfully and sprinkles in some religious symbolism. If Weiler ever sells out, this song would be a great theme song for Alcoholics Anonymous. It's a song of great sorrow and knowing exactly how and why that position came to be.

If there's a weak spot to this album, it's the song 'Change.' It has a good sound, very sitting-around-the-campfire, all jamming out. But she really lost it with the lyrics. It preaches about women's tattered self images and eating disorders. Yeah, Brenda, we've all heard it before. "first we eat, then we puke" are the lyrics that really grate. Nobody should sing the word "puke." Sure, it's a good message, but folk singer meets public service announcement isn't the recipe for a rockin' song.

'Anyway' is proof of Weiler's new-found sophistication. Her voice sounds incredibly mature, easily with the ranks of folk greats. It's a simple love song, and she nailed it with such confidence that it doesn't need to be complicated to be good.

"I've got my mother's hips. They're eight miles wide," Weiler sang with a smile while performing 'Sweet Lullaby.' This folky little song is a true gem that makes the most stone-faced listener wish she hit those high notes. It's going to make all the hippies sway in their gauze skirts. And (it had to be brought up) does have a very Ani DiFranco essence.

'Jordan,' the only song on crazy happy to be accompanied by piano, keeps a very subdued air. At the same time there is anticipation, like Weiler's going to break the calm with a raspy choke. But she keeps it at the same level the whole way through. It has a very early-Madonna sound, like something off "True Blue."

The only angry-sounding song on the album is 'Pretty Face.' She plays sharply and has percussion on back-up to add splashes of accusation. Oh, how the feelings flow on this one. She sounds sweet, angry, and pleading. It makes for a very neatly tied package.

The final track, 'In the Morning,' contains the album's title track. This song is the stuff inspiration is made of. She finally breaks out the la-da-das and strums with real feeling.

There are a few breaks that lose that build up of anticipation, but overall it makes for a great track to pull the title from. It does have a representative value of the entire CD. It's Weiler strumming on her guitar, singing the best she can. And that's pretty damn good.

--Nikki Brovold, The ADVOCATE, Moorhead State University, Moorhead, MN; January 21, 1999


 

Brenda Weiler's latest album proves to be 'crazy happy'

When I first heard her perform nearly a year ago, I knew I was witnessing a star in the making.

Born and raised in Fargo, ND, Brenda Weiler first began to write songs after she graduated from high school in 1996. From early on, Weiler's musical influences included Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, and Tracy Chapman. With several years of experience playing cello in her high school orchestra, she also attributes some inspiration to classical music.

"I didn't want to go to college, so I just started writing songs for the heck of it," Weiler said. In November 1997, Weiler recorded her first album, trickle down, on the local Barking Dog Records label, which also carries such artists as 3 Minute Hero and the label's founders Mike and Linda Coates. While holding down a job at Zandbroz Variety in Fargo, Weiler began promoting trickle down at coffee houses, clubs, colleges and festivals around the Midwest, and was often found at the First Avenue in Fargo. In the spring of 1998, Weiler quit her job and began touring full time. Over the months she began sharing the stage with an impressive collection of performers including Greg Brown, Lucy Kaplansky, Dar Williams, Stuart Davis, 3 Minute Hero, and recently she performed with Deb Jenkins for the Take Back the Night march in Moorhead.

But it was Brenda Weiler, her guitar, and a solo act in a small Park Rapids coffee house that first made me a fan. Playing songs from trickle down, unrecorded composition--some just finished the night before--and covers of Patty Griffin, PJ Harvey, and Radiohead, Weiler managed to capture the attentions of both high school students and adults old enough to be her parents.

What's different about Brenda Weiler?

With artists like Tori Amos, Jewel and Sarah McLachlan's Lilith Fair proving that women in music do sell, what makes Brenda Weiler any different from Natalie Imbruglia?

Nothing and everything.

At first glance, Brenda Weiler could be mistaken for you or me. Just 21, she blends in with the audiences for whom she performs. Until she takes the stage and begins singing.

Commonly opening with the stunning 'Ring Around Your Waist' from her first album, Weiler immediately delivers everything you wouldn't expect. With lyrics such as "I snap your rubberband against your skin/You tell me to stop so I do it again," Weiler leaves her listeners whispering "wow!" while she's moved on to the song's climactic "You're so scared that you can't stay."

It's lyrics like these that many of her fans identify with. "I like the way Brenda isn't afraid to express common emotions women have about relationships and other issues that a lot of women might be reluctant to share," Jessica Berghuis, a Concordia freshman said. And in fact, it was a recent relationship that gave birth to many of the new songs Weiler features in her performances. Songs like 'Weave My Way' and 'Anyway' tell of her experiences falling love. "And the sky is suddenly switched to black/I guess I'm not quite used to that my darling, my dear."

Weiler also found inspiration from the break-up, expressing her sorrow and regret in the bluesy "Pretty Face:" "And I always wanted more than your pretty face/but you never believed in what you could do."

And finally, Weiler captures the essence of growing from the pain she felt in the encouraging ballad 'In the Morning:' "And the sunlight is peeking through/baby, can't you see the way the saterstains have left my face."

What's in store? With one album under her belt and several new songs which she has been showcasing in her performances, Brenda Weiler went back to the studio in November to record her second album, crazy happy. Unlike trickle down, on which she played guitar and sang separately, Weiler insisted that crazy happy be a live album.

"It has a different energy. There's a lot more going on," said Weiler. "It sounds more like me."

After getting the chance to preview the album this weekend, I'd have to agree. To the more rhythmic songs, Weiler and her co-producer, Mike Coates, have added percussion and bassline tracks featuring Al Bergstrom, Connor Hopkins, J. Matt Keil of the ban Bobby Llama, and Peter Niblock. Weiler still retains her intimate vocal/guitar solos which were most prevalent on trickle down, creating an album with variety and balance. Several times I wished to pop a cassette into her sound equipment to record her live shows, and crazy happy surpasses what those shows would have produced.

Weiler also experiments with a piano and cello-- something she didn't do on the first album--in the song, 'Jordan,' one she finished writing only a few minutes before recording it. Upon first listen, it wasn't what I hda anticipated. 'Jordan' begins almost at a plod, with none of the hooks that Weiuler has developed with her guitar. Yet by the end, with the cello creating a dark and beautiful harmony with the piano, one wishes to hear more of Weiler's story of Jordan. The song is a surprise that Weiler hopefully won't abandon.

--Scott Broughton, The CONCORDIAN, Concordia College, Moorhead, MN; January 15, 1999


"Brenda Weiler has created a solid album of thoughtful tunes on her debut CD. Weiler explores the topics of identity, independence and relationships wihout sounding too wordy. The upbeat 'Dancer' portrays Weiler's whimsical side, while '5,000 Miles' stands out as a sweet ballad. With hints of Dar Williams and Tracy Chapman, Weiler's bright voice is the attraction here. Performing with only a guitar-except for a few songs that include percussion and bass--Brenda Weiler is someone to watch."

DIRTY LINEN, August/September, 1998 (review of debut CD trickle down)

 


New Reviews...

"Grapevine has it that the next Ani DiFranco is emerging from North Dakota. The least I could do, I figure, was take a listen. So I'm expecting a few piercings here and there, and a steady stream of angst-laden musings about the sad state of the state and the case for anarchy.

"Well, along comes Ms. Weiler. In a voice sweet enough to charm the most savage protester, she sings about the usual trials and tribulations associated with life and love. Before I know it, my living room is Cafe Roma, and I'm sitting at my table nursing a latte hoping that the server won't push me into buying another before the show ends.

"I've also realized by now that I'm not listening to the next righteous babe, but that's not to say that something good hasn't come in this small package. With just that wonderful voice and her guitar, "Trickle Down" is proof that folk is alive and well...with or without the angst.

"Allow me to play Karnak for a moment (and I predict the 20-year-old Weiler will have to ask someone who that character is), and I'll give the following ANSWER: gold, silk and jewel. The QUESTION: 'If Brenda Weiler finds the right band to front, how will her music sell, what will the critics compare her voice to, and who will she out-shine in every way?'"

David M. Meyers, THE DAVIS ENTERPRISE--Davis, Californa, June 25, 1998


"You have an incredible voice" -Lucy Kaplansky


The e-zine Consumable Online, which rarely reviews smaller indie releases, published this review of Brenda Weiler's debut CD, trickle down, by reviewer Paul Hanson:

"In this pitiful era of dime a dozen female solo acts, Natalie Imbruglia being the latest with chart success for her single/video "Torn," it's refreshing to these ears to finally hear a soul-driven vocalist strumming an acoustic guitar that demands you listen. Brenda Weiler is the breath of fresh air pop music needs to inhale again and again.

Her release Trickle Down is brilliant. Many of the songs here are just Weiler strumming her acoustic guitar and providing soulful and soul-searching vocals. In "Drag," for example, Weiler sings, "You can play the fool/ You can try to keep score/ But if you wrestle with the devil, you can fight your own war." Her lyrics also search the plains of the human psyche, questioning religion. In "Tight," she sings, 'Jesus, can you come?' or will you make me do/ all those things that I shouldn't do." Later, she sings, "Who ever got the idea that beauty is right?/ That my butt and belly are meant to be tight/ cause I think what we have here is fucking insane/ and I don't care what my hair looks like after the rain."

Confrontational with powerful lyrics and an even stronger acoustic guitar strum, Weiler deserves, like few other female solo artists, wide-spread success and national prominence. Madonna is 40; Weiler looks and sounds like she has 40 more years of wisdom and maturity to flow through her compelling voice. "


"...Her trump card is the voice. Weiler's sound is sweet but powerful. Her lyrics are direct and vivid. Quietly, and without distortion or reverb, her debut album, "trickle down," gets your attention."

CITY VIEW weekly, Des Moines, Iowa; April 1, 1998

"Armed with only a guitar and her strong, dynamic voice, Fargo native Brenda Weiler still packs quite a punch. Her frank lyrics and call-to-arms vocals beg complimentary comparisons to Ani or Joni. Judge for yourself..."

Best Bets, HIGH PLAINS READER, Fargo, ND, Thursday, December 11, 1997

 


"A voice of confession, beautiful and true" -Willie Wisely


"trickle down" is filled with intricate contrasts, reflecting Brenda Weiler's own complex personality-humble and aggressive, young-at-heart and weathered like a favorite pair of shoes. Vocally, Weiler can deliver anything from a forced narrative to a soothing ballad to a danceable "shake it if you got it" number. She's at her best when she's playing with accents and word placement, accentuating her lyrics' resemblance of life's little unpredictabilities...Weiler demonstrates she has the potential to become one of the leading vocalists in the folk music genre, where delivery of the lyric is so critical. Lyrically, Weiler deftly balances her youth's charm with her life's wisdom-from lyrics like "She'll trickle down you" in "Trickle Down" (by far the greatest chorus) to "The stars won't tell you what you need to know, I've tried that before" in "Wait and See."

The album is well-produced (kudos to co-producer Mike Coates for retaining the intimacy of Weiler's performances). Some of the songs are so perfectly packaged-"5,000 Miles," "Trickle Down," and "95" to name a few-that she convinces the listener she could've been doing this for 20 years, but she hasn't even been walking that long...The influence of Ani DiFranco shines through occasionally, yet Weiler has matured beyond simple imitation and is settling into her own unique style...The quality of this recording-from its songs to its production values-is impressive."

Benjamin Lacina, editor

PUSH MAGAZINE--Minneapolis, MN, March 1, 1998


"So you're the little girl with the big voice!" -Richie Havens


"...Music writers Jim Walsh, Kate Sullivan and Amy Carlson ofer the first in a series of CD review roundups that catches up on some of the year's most noteworthy local releases...A talented acoustic signer/songwriter, callow and simple and sometimes elegant...Weiler has obviously moved beyond her Ani phase and only occasionally evokes the patron saint of young acoustic folk-women. That's a good thing. Weiler's a hack of a lot easier to listen to and a lot less pretentious...'trickle down' bears marks of potential: clarity, confidence, consistency and genuine emotion.

St. Paul Pioneer Press--St. Paul, MN, August 24, 1998

 

"...I saw this tiny figure emerge from the wings, carrying a guitar toward the microphone. The applause was earsplitting. From the moment she was introduced as the next performer, the roar in the Fargo Theatre was so loud I was uncertain that she'd be able to play above it. When the audience finally settled down a moment later, Weiler began the title song from her CD "trickle down." I remember staring at this woman wondering where this tremendous voice was coming from. It seemed impossible that a person her size could produce such incredible sound. I looked over at my friend, who mouthed the word, "Wow," at me and shook her head...Rarely have I seen a performance as fiercely honest and musically impeccable as Weiler's."

HIGH PLAINS READER cover feature--Fargo, ND, April 2, 1998

 

"Brenda Weiler has a voice as clear and strong as a North Shore trout stream in the springtime. Her debut CD on Barking Dog Records is a straightforward presentation of her voice, her songs and some clever guitar turns. Very nice! Fun to hear and great production...She has a good melodic sense."

Chris Osgood

Director of Artist Services, Resources and Counseling for the Arts, St. Paul

formerly Label Manager and Producer at Twin/Tone Records, Minneapolis; 1989 MMA Rock Guitarist of the Year

 


crazy happy (released January 19, 1999) and trickle down are available at area record stores and online exclusively by the fine folks at Peppermint.

(Distributed to retail by OarFin Records and Electric Fetus in Minneapolis.)



 

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