Artist: Clara Engel
Album: Dressed in Borrowed Light
Release Date: 20/08/2021
Today I look at something a little different to our usual fanfare with Clara Engel‘s latest offering Dressed in Borrowed Light. The album was independently released yesterday.
This isn’t the first Clara album that we’ve covered, and I doubt it will be the last given their consistent output of quality music. For anyone who isn’t familiar with Clara’s music, the album is a unique blend of bluesy, experimental dream folk. This is the second release of theirs to be written and recorded at home during the pandemic. The album listens like and was inspired by poetry, as well as other literary works. These sources of inspiration are nothing new with the previous release featuring inspirational sources of a similar nature.
On this particular release Clara states that they were inspired by “The Babushkas of Chernobyl” by Holly Morris and Anne Bogart, the novels of George Eliot, “The Departure” by Lana Wilson, and the Zen poetry of Ryōkan. This gives you even more reason to pay attention to the lyrics on the album, as there are some fascinating themes and concepts worked in there. As a result, the lyrics differ from many other folk artists, for example track 2 In a Bed of Snow features some of personal favourites from the release:
“Silver web aches where the sky wept
emerald blades burst from the black earth
tessellation of pain
tattoo of a pulse
my opening mouth spews gold toads and radiant grains
they turn to ash in your withering gaze
pit of burning rot and roses
ladders made of snakes
we’re sowing seeds in a bed of snow
and I don’t know what to say
the light changes again”
If you can’t appreciate the beauty in these lyrics, then the charms of this album may be lost on you.
As usual Clara is responsible for most elements on the album, providing vocals, cigar box guitar, electric guitar, shruti box, found percussion (wooden trunk played with soft mallets), tongue drum, chromonica and gusli. Additionally, we have guest contributions from George Crotty (cello on Silver Scythe), Brad Deschamps (atmospheric guitar on In a Bed of Snow), Lys Guillorn (lap steel on Silver Scythe), Darren Hoyt (morin khuur, ambient guitar, and bass on Flame Tree Sings), Paul Kolinski (backing vocals and drums on Pomegranate Seeds) and Marley M. Rosen (backing vocals on Flame Tree Sings).
The album places primary importance on atmosphere and lyrical content. The way that the album has been written and performed leans toward minimalism, a decision that works very much in its favour. The stripped back style of the music allows the limited elements presented at any given time to truly shine. That’s not to say that there aren’t many elements on the album, (as you can see above) there are plenty at work, but they are presented gradually throughout the album. This prevents them from clamoring for attention and drowning each other out.
The instrumentals themselves are kept at a slightly lower volume than the vocals. This was a wise decision as it allows Clara’s soothing and captivating vocals to glide over the top of the music and draw your primary focus. At the same time though they are composed in a manner that consistently always compliments and frames the vocals. While the vocal style remains mostly the same throughout the album aside from some rousing moments and more relaxed lulls, the music constantly changes and develops around it on each and every track.
While being presented in a bluesy and experimental manor the music still retains the elements of folk that make it such a special genre of music. It hasn’t lost that raw and pure emotion that quality folk possesses. There’s passion and conviction behind the words sung and a true beauty that resonates through this. This allows a unique connection to be formed with the music that few other styles of music other than folk or dark ambient can achieve. There’s a somewhat haunting quality to the music too, particularly on songs such as track 4 Flame Tree Sings, which very well be my favourite track on the album.
Overall, this was a truly solid release and a great follow up to A New Skin. personally, I preferred the stylistic direction of this release as it had a somewhat fuller sound. That is expected though as the previous release was an intentional attempt to strip the music down to its bare bones. So, if you’re a folk fan then this album is well worth your time. If you’re not then maybe this can be the release to help change your mind.
Listen to and order the album: