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.