REVIEW: Don Cherel’s “Handmade Content” is Faith, Insight, and Humor


Don Cherel — award-winning designer/producer of TV commercials drops his first solo 11-song LP Sept 27th: Handmade Content. (Label Logic).

The collection focuses on songs of faith, insight & humor. Produced by George Massenburg (Billy Joel, Linda Ronstadt, & Randy Newman) & showcases guitarist Pat Bergeson (Chet Atkins, & Emmylou Harris).

I always hesitate with creative types who succeed in many areas & assume they can tackle something far-removed from their comfort zone. Individual songs may be personal, but they still have to resonate with an audience. Compositions, voice & melodies must attract listeners who relate. Don Cherel indeed has talent so let’s see…

Good songwriting, composing & performing does help Don’s sincere delivery. His music has a certain charm (shared by hundreds of other aspiring singer-songwriters). So, if you’re looking for something new, challenging, or compelling — this may not be the place. But some good music does indeed come from this man’s effort.

“Bucket of Nickels,” pleasant enough with an inspired harmonica & deep bass line is a Leon Redbone vocal knockoff with a tonal pinch of Dr. John. Despite ordinary lyrics, Don Cherel has lots of potential though with some anemic originality. That doesn’t hamper the quality though. His songs are played well, & it’s a standard even paced performance. His reliable musicians perform on mostly handmade instruments. Impressive.

“Just Because,” has a fuller band sound & Cherel stylistically borrows from the late BW Stevenson & Larry Weiss (writer & original singer of “Rhinestone Cowboy”). It’s not an issue though — they’re good people to emulate, but Don still needs a signature sound.

Perhaps Don’s forte is James Taylor crossed with Joe Ely. Some of the songs here border on excellent. As evident with the addition of Jeff Taylor’s country-flavored piano on “Brown Eyed and Blue,” then…Don follows with a J.J. Cale type melody & performance pace.

“Homesick Lullaby,” — that’s how Don credibly sings it but there needs to be more Cale venom in the bite. That’s all. Don has the lines that bite, but he never sings it that way. That bite probably comes with experience. The song chugs along in a J.J. Cale style but I must emphasize — Don isn’t imitating. He’s influenced. He’s at that point where his influences are obvious. The guitar work — while not difficult — percolates.

“Miracles Happen,” is Buddy Miller territory. Don’s voice isn’t as gruff & deep as Buddy’s but it’s Miller-inspired. That’s a good thing. Shows diversity. It’s poignant, well-written & yeah, it’s beautiful. This is the first-class singer-songwriter intensity needed & it’s evident here.

“Sue Ellen,” however, is masterful.

A wall-of-sound production with a captivating vocal-technique. Don Cherel finds HIS voice.

Based on the years his grandfather worked the steel mills the acoustic “Man of Steel,” is stirring. With “Can’t Love You Like I Used To,” Don mines a Harry Nilsson style with a female voice added quite well. “Fish & Tackle,” possesses the voice & humor in the tradition of the late Steve Goodman (“The City of New Orleans). This is a nice addition to the LP. John Prine-ish as well. Good choices to follow.

“I Do Fly,” is the coda — shows an inspirational voice & grazes the edge of spiritual music. Contemplative. Quite lovely.

The LP is a commendable effort, no doubt.

Leave a Reply!