Some kind of Wonderland

Carolyn Wonderland brings Texas-tinged blues to CPH

By Rusty Pate

Austin, Texas, is a musical mecca. It has spawned American legends like Stevie Ray Vaughan, Townes Van Zandt and Janis Joplin. Contemporary acts such as The Black Angels, Gary Clark Jr. and Okkervil River show the diversity of the scene. For an artist to stand out in a place like Austin, they have to be special.

Carolyn Wonderland certainly fits the bill.

Wonderland grew up in Houston, earning respect and winning awards year after year. It’s really not fair to start naming the genres her music touches, as her style is so hard to nail down. Often described as a blues player, she also is at home in virtually every other American music form.

“I love blues—don’t get me wrong,” Wonderland says. “It’s still one of my favorite things, and it can hit me harder than anything. I just never really thought I was that good of a player [laughs]. The stuff I write just kind of comes from wherever it comes from. I’m often times surprised by exactly where the song goes by the time it’s finished.”

While her modesty might suggest she doesn’t have the talent to call herself a blues player, her chops tell a different story.

Many blues-influenced pickers can fall into doing musical acrobatics. They fly up and down the neck, forgetting that this form relies much more on emotional resonance than technical proficiency. Wonderland plays with restraint, never allowing any run or lick to overpower the song itself.

Perhaps it comes from the fact that she plays a myriad of instruments: piano, trumpet and coronet—just to name a few.

It also doesn’t hurt to have so much inspiration right around the corner—the effect Austin has had on her music since moving there cannot be understated.

“Doug Sahm called it ‘the land of free guitar lessons,’” Wonderland says. “It’s no shit—you can still go see Redd Volkaert on a Sunday for $5, one of the coolest guitar players around. Everybody supports each other here. For a community with so many damned musicians, you would think it would be a little more competitive, but everybody’s either in each other’s bands or drinking at the shows.”

Living in Austin also brought some big time music friends into her life.

Ray Benson of local legends Asleep at the Wheel produced her 2008 effort Miss Understood and introduced her to a fellow by the name of Bob Dylan.

Dylan had been a fan of her work and asked Benson to arrange a meeting. Initially, Wonderland kept quiet since everything that came to her head was “the most stupid things.”

“Then, we just started talking about music and he is a serious musicologist,” Wonderland says. “He knows a great deal—not just history either. I sent him a demo, and he was like, ‘Is that a coronet?’ I was like, ‘Good lord, he can tell the difference between a coronet and a trumpet?’ I was pleasantly surprised. When you meet someone that you respect so much, it’s kind of frightening, but he was just super cool.”

She says work has begun on a new studio album, her first since the 2011 disc Peace Meal. The initial plan is to get an EP out fairly quickly and potentially knock out a few before putting together a full-length vinyl. She says the economics of the music business make it necessary to try different routes of getting music in the hands of fans.

“Everybody’s just trying to keep their head afloat, and I feel really lucky that we still get to make music,” Wonderland says. “It is always interesting to me—just the devaluation of music is kind of far out. People are perfectly happy to pay $5 for a cup of coffee, but not at all for a song.”

She does acknowledge that the changing landscape of the way music is consumed is great as a fan. Certainly a move to a post-genre world, where people come to a much more diverse range of styles and artists than ever before, serves a musician like Wonderland well.

“If I think about someone like Doug Sahm or I think about someone like the Grateful Dead, I don’t think about blues or psychedelic or folk—I just think about them,” Wonderland says. “Every song they do sounds like them. That’s what I think it’s leading to, and I don’t think that’s a bad thing either.”

She talked about the life of a travelling musician and getting to see the back alleys that tourists often miss. While it certainly is a tough life, it’s a fulfilling one.

“The joy in it is getting to play music,” she says. “Although if we ever make it up to Heaven, if it’s more than a mythical idea, I’m convinced that the musicians are going to be entering through a dumpster chute [laughs]. ‘Just over there by the kitchen.’”

Carolyn Wonderland will perform Friday, Feb. 5 at Canal Public House, 308 E. First St. Eric Jerardi will open, along with Miss Lissa & Company. Show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are $11.24 and are available through For more information, please visit or call 937.640.3174.

Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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Rusty Pate
Reach DCP freelance writer Rusty Pate at

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