From Albany's alternate weekly Metroland (April 3, 2008)


All the Ladies in the House

By B.A. Nilsson

Amy Engelhardt

Not Gonna Be Pretty (Coldfoot)

Amy Engelhardt enjoys words, whether she’s singing them or writing them or, in the case of her new CD, both. Her lyrics are witty, trenchant and persuasive, and she’s set them to melodies that lull you into enjoying them as catchy tunes—until they veer into contrasting territories. In other words, she’s got the craft down cold, if not better than most because she has a rare and intelligent edge in wordsmithery.

“[It] would be so great if you could be like me/It would be so great if you could like me,” is the heart of the chorus of the opening song, a single mom’s troubled lament to her teenage daughter that brims with an undercurrent of all-too-familiar guilt and shame transmission. The dynamic ensemble is headed by pianist Bob Malone, giving jazzy inflections to a pop-lively number.

Engelhardt’s most high-profile gig is as one-fourth of the Bobs, an a cappella ensemble with a 25-year legacy of creating new ways to combine voices while performing a large repertory of classics and originals. Since joining 10 years ago, Engelhardt has created a number of her own original songs for the group, so it’s not surprising (and, in fact, very satisfying) to find her going solo as well.

The 13 album tracks offer a fascinating tour of degrees of annoyance and pain, most rendered wryly. “Are you a pothole or a ramp?” asks one anthemic song. “Do you want to help me fly/Or trip me up until I cramp?”

Veering into the cynical, “Anywhere Else but Me” begins, “Woke up on the sofa/Patterns on my face/Smacked my knee on the table/I’m not used to this place,” and goes on to look at love from significantly detached locations. “What Do You Look Like” takes a parallel journey, but with temporal detachment.

Engelhardt also is an impressive balladeer, with a rich voice and the ability to paint an evocative portrait with a poetically few words. “Idaho” carries the terse refrain, “Scenery/Mountains and rivers mute the mean in me” sung to the very effective accompaniment of Gil Ayan’s solo guitar.

“Are You Dead or Are You Undead” is a repeated chant of the title, the basso of fellow-Bob Richard Greene underpinning the piece; as Engelhardt joins the chant, “undead” starts to sound like “wounded,” giving the song an intriguing ambiguity.

Engelhardt may be a tad too intelligent to rack up big mainstream sales, but I hold out hope. For those who want to be in at the debut of a witty, bright, affecting singer-songwriter, head to coldfoot.net and grab a copy.

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