CD Review of Craving the Second by Cheryl B. Engelhardt
Recommended if you like
Katydids, the Moon Seven Times, Carole King
Label
CBE Music
Cheryl B. Engelhardt:
Craving the Second

Reviewed by Jason Thompson

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C
heryl B. Engelhardt’s story is one of those testaments to homegrown success that every DIY musician longs for. Engelhardt, being something of a musical prodigy who started out on piano at age three and began writing songs at age five, began her musical career in earnest by composing music for websites and also writing commercial jingles. But she wanted to express her creativity in a more personal way, so she self-produced her 2004 debut album Shoes Off and Run and quickly became a favorite in New York City, becoming a regular at such famous spots as The Knitting Factory and The Bitter End, while also touring up and down the east coast and heading out to Los Angeles.

So here it is, some three-odd years or so later, and Engelhardt is back with her sophomore disc, another self-produced affair that simply shimmers with beautiful melodies and professional performances. This is certainly the kind of piano-driven pop that would make legends such as Carole King proud. What Engelhardt has is an ear for fresh melodies and ideas that either haven’t been done to death already, or have qualities of similar artists from the past whose sound doesn’t get heard often enough anymore. If anything, Cheryl proves that pure pop, piano-driven music is alive and well, and not just some quaint artifact that the latest modern rock group is using as a touchstone for irony in its own songs.

Engelhardt has one of those voices that screams “I can sing” without being overdone or bombastic, such as any of your usual garden variety “American Idol” contestants who often make it to the final rounds of competition. She is a hell of a performer at the heart of it all, and her backing band is exceptional as well. It almost boggles the mind how someone with such talent is going about her career in a DIY fashion and no one else has noticed. Not that that’s a bad thing; God knows the music biz is in such a state these days that artists are probably better off if doing your own thing, and not letting Clive Davis or some other label honcho and his yes-men get his hands on their product to start messing about with it. That Engelhardt is such a consummate performer, making music of this caliber and getting it out there, is commendable in itself.

One listen to “Keep” will make you a believer. The soaring choruses and Cheryl’s pop-classical style of piano playing seems like a perfect fit for today’s radio audience. It would almost be a sure thing that a song like this could top an Adult Contemporary or hit singles chart easily. Ditto that for the wonderful “Day Dreamer” with its jaunty rhythms, slightly Broadwayesque style lyrics and another amazing chorus that goes down easy. Indeed, it’s the gem of the album sitting amongst a collection of great songs.

“Wrapped Up” exudes a cool, jazzy style that seems to recall the best of both Joni Mitchell during her Hissing of Summer Lawns period and Steely Dan circa Katy Lied. Then there’s “This Train,” which could rival the drama of Fiona Apple or Julia Fordham while throwing in a dash of Kate Earl or Jem. Yes, Engelhardt is that diverse and tasteful, and it all makes for something worth hearing in these days of worn out rock and pop mechanisms that feel even more tired as the years pass on.

Yet it’s Cheryl’s aversion to the melodramatic and bombastic that makes Craving the Second the wonder that it is. Too often, female singer-songwriters these days (and many of those that gained fame in the ‘90s) are overburdened with their own self-importance; their songs can seem too trite and precious. Yet Engelhardt balances everything perfectly, performing her songs beautifully, and never caves in to self-satisfied ego stroking. Suffice it to say that she has the “it” that makes people talk and listen -- so listen for yourself and spread the good word of this amazing album.

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