These days, I try so hard to avoid Top 40 music on the radio that my daughters think I have ADD with the radio dial. Truth is, I’d rather listen to street noise most of the time because everything sounds so over-engineered and cookie cutter these days. It’s difficult to find anything with substance worth listening to (so I end up with a classic rock station listening to the same old tunes over and over again).
From that cheery vantage point, I have some good news. I found someone who embraces pop music, but imbues each song with substance. Cheryl B. Engelhardt just released her third album, One Up, which was entirely financed through fan donations. Her lyrics ring true with hope and story in a time when those qualities are rare in pop music. Adding to that, her arrangements vary from track to track, integrating different styles seamlessly, whether they are simple piano melodies, rap music, or carefully layered instruments building to a crescendo.
It’s tough to pin down any single artist or group I think she is the most alike. At times, there’s some Evanescence. Sometimes I hear a bit of Sarah McLachlan or Tori Amos. Other tracks may hint at a bit of Avril Lavigne or even a bit of the Rescues. She seems to adjust how each song is constructed to fit the feeling she wants to express, which is awesome. Many albums end up with a repeated flavor, but One Up doesn’t fall into that trap.
Now I have to get into the music. Funny enough, that’s where I got lost. It’s been a while since I’ve liked damn near every song on an album. There’s a romance in these songs that sucked me in, from the lows to the highs and everything in between. Apparently, my inner romantic isn’t quite dead yet.
Things kick off with “Steaming Hearts.” This is the track that reminded me of the heavier tone and arrangements of Evanescence merged with a bit of Tori Amos’ piano. “I will get over this, over so fast/I may cry through the night till my devil’s gone at last/This steaming heart will cool and melt me into the past.” We all face our devils, our regrets, and our wild moments. This arrangement captures that whirlwind rising and falling, building from quiet pauses to heavy strings, synthesizers, and electric guitar.
From the crazy, Engelhardt falls into a lighter guitar and synthesizer-driven melody with “Trust Me,” about the cycle some couples fall into, bouncing from fighting to making up. When things go well, we look for something to be wrong. “You can trust me/You just need to believe/Nothing’s wrong, it’s what you think.” Hope that your partner is there to catch you.
There are a couple of duets on the album as well. One of them is “Side to Side” featuring Vega Teknique, who injects some rap into a great tune. Another is “Bring You Back” featuring Joey Auch, which is more of a traditional duet. Though I’m not a huge fan of rap music, I applaud Engelhardt for adding that texture to the album. And “Bring You Back” feels like a Broadway number. I couldn’t help but envision a performance featuring two singers at either end of the stage slowly coming together as the song works along.
Ultimately, my inner romantic fell in love with the singer’s “Fairytale,” a tale of love bringing two storybook characters together. This one should make an appearance at many weddings before the year’s out, riding a combination of piano and strings singing the chorus, “Down on bended knee/Bound to you I’m free/Life is for loving/In our fairytale.” In an age where fairy tales have come back to television with Once Upon a Time, I can’t help but think this song should be woven into that narrative.
One Up features 12 tracks in all and will defy easy categorization for fans of artistic pop music. Cheryl B. Engelhardt has woven her life into these songs and produced one heck of an album in the process. I can’t wait to see what the future holds for her music. Look for the album at your favorite music store or on iTunes, Amazon.com, and CD Baby.
For more about Engelhardt, be sure to visit her website, cbemusic.com.