Last updated on October 4, 2021
Artistry like Clara Engel’s Dressed in Borrowed Light demands little of us, really. That said, Engel’s six-song journey gently challenges listeners to emerge from our self-imposed darkness in stunning beauty.
This record is an experience; that experience is not for everyone. This journey of introspection is dark at times. Most of us went through emotions similar to these during the past year, yet not everyone is willing to bare their soul so artfully. This trip begins in a lavender garden reminiscent of Lewis Carroll. Whimsical yet haunted, opener “Yesterday We Lived Forever” sets the tone. We hear Engel’s voice, cigar box guitar, electric guitar, shruti box, found percussion (wooden trunk played with soft mallets), tongue drum, chromonica, and gusli, but really what we’re hearing is an artist’s soul laid out for display. Engel (engineering and mixing) and Ian Hawgood (mastering) create a cohesive sonic palette from this variety of instruments.
“In a Bed of Snow” serves as the perfect poetic descent into the light. Haunting harmonies with Brad Deschamps’ atmospheric guitar turn this into one of my favorite tracks of the record. The poetry of these lyrics often defies reasoning, and the metaphor-lush “Pomegranate Seeds” certainly is one of these tracks. Sweetly simple, each lyric has space to wrap around the rich vocal chorus with Paul Kolinski joining on backing vocals and percussion.
The joy of these songs is in their rich textures achieved with such simplicity. Marley M. Rosen adds backing vocals to “Flame Tree Sings” in contrast to Engel: a remarkable stylistic choice, the merging of the two vocal tones is purely devilish magic. “Heart of Rags” feels like the death blow that we have all felt–a rhythmic heartbeat moving the performance art to its conclusion.
We have all survived the same nightmare, but “Silver Scythe” celebrates the survival of these horrors. The stark imagery of this song’s lyricism portrays a reemergence that has purified us all. We have been equalized, despite our best efforts. The addition of Lys Guillorn’s lap steel and George Crotty’s cello seems like sheer perfection. Clara Engel’s Dressed in Borrowed Light is an invitation to join their reimaginings of the present.–Lisa Whealy