“She may sound sassy and assured, but there’s something distinctly old school and traditional about Colorado’s Jenn Cleary. One need venture no further than the embraceable melodies that survey swing, blues and retro pop in ways that make them seem both new and yet strikingly familiar. As a result, Back to the Wheel provides such a vast potpourri of moods and music that anyone attempting to pigeonhole her might well end up seething with frustration. The Cajun shuffle “Summertime’s the Time” (a celebratory sequel Mungo Jerry might have otherwise embraced), the effortlessly upbeat “Last Day of Vacation Blues,” the sassy vamp “Don’t Try and Change Me” and the retro soul embossed in “Back to the Wheel” and “Those Boys” (each of which would have found a natural fit with Janis Joplin and Southside Johnny, respectively) find her off in different directions at the expense of espousing any single style.
Still Cleary’s clearly not fickle, at least in terms of her emotional investment. On intimate ballads like “Moments of Grace,” Hope” and “Little Mr. Street Survivor,” she’s capable of bringing her listeners to tears by recounting the sad stories of children sidelined by disease and those otherwise victimized by indifference and misfortune. For all her outreach and versatility, it’s those bittersweet moments that create the most lingering bonds and make Back to the Wheel so absolutely affecting.”