The Little Orphan Annie of blues rock, Carolyn Wonderland continues to grow with each album. This time, she also has improved production and engineering to help frame her efforts. The raspy voice has as much gospel-like power as ever on songs like “Only God Knows When” and “No Exception,” but it’s cut with a tenderness that, on songs like “Usurper,” is more prevalent than ever. For all the comparisons to Janis Joplin she’s gotten from lazy critics, she actually seems closer to the mature sass, soul and sweetness of fellow Austinite Marcia Ball. And her guitar work is both resourceful and full of feeling; she even makes her own the signature guitar lick of Elmore James on her version of his “Dust My Broom.” Peace Meal ends with the one-two punch of “Two Trains” and “Shine On.” The latter embraces exactly the rock clichés you’d expect from the title, and yet Wonderland makes them fresh and stirring again. That requires conviction, something else she has in abundance, and something that goes well with her ever-expanding guitar and vocal chops.
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