Impressed at how deftly, effortlessly and gracefully Cheryl B. Engelhardt evolved from mainstream (and emotionally impactful) indie singer/songwriter to innovative new age pianist and artist with her critically acclaimed, bestselling 2020 debut Luminary – which hit #1 on the New Age Music Chart – I concluded my review: “Cheryl opens a glorious door not only to the next phase of her career, but a fresh way forward in content and approach for the ambient/new age genre.”
With her gently empowering follow-up album A Seeker’s Slumber, she not only artfully exceeds the prophetic hope of that praise, she transcends the boundaries of the format and sets a template for what new age concept albums can be. The softly alliterative album title may inspire in more traditional minded genre fans thoughts of a typical, gently lilting (even blandly rendered) sleep-inducing project – but her deeply heartfelt, richly textured collection, featuring exciting piano improvisations and an inspiring array of dynamic, invigorating vocal textures is about so much more than getting people to drift off.
From the hypnotic, sweeping angelic choir ambiences of the opening track “Ithaca” (a song the artist says is optimal for morning listening) to the hauntingly hypnotic, celestially soulful closer “Sopor,” Cheryl takes us on a unique, multi-faceted and intimately ethereal full day journey from a fresh morning awakening TOWARDS the quiet, well-earned splendor of nighttime. Once any arising conflicts are solved, she uses her music to propel us (sometimes slowly and quietly, oftentimes more restlessly with a swirl of her own and outside voicings) through a process defined by six R’s: resolution, release, rest, reflection, remembrance and, at last, relaxation.
“The concept is a day, from the struggles of waking up and motivating, to getting grounded, to dealing with conflict, to honoring your past, to releasing and preparing for rest, to finally, falling asleep,” Cheryl says. “The title implies that sleeping is not just a simple task especially for those looking for something - whether personal growth development, a transformation in their life, or even love…The seekers among us lie awake thinking and pondering. They are the ones looking inwards so they can contribute outwards. They are the ones carrying weight. And honestly, I think that’s pretty much everyone with a conscience these days.
“The music was designed to help THAT person, to latch on to their current emotions and heart rate and help guide them into sleep,” she adds. “I’ve found that much of what people and many artists call ‘sleep music’ is ‘drone-y,’ slow music. That’s great once you’re ready to fall asleep, but I found myself not engaged enough for the music to overpower my to-do list thoughts and worries from the day. The songs I created for A Seeker’s Slumber’ help process those emotions and guide the listener to release the worries.”
Cheryl used vocals on Luminary as one of the three major instruments along with piano and a bell. A Seeker’s Slumber builds on this aesthetic in that she composed all ten tracks in a similar experimental and improvisatory way. Having thrown her back out just days before starting work on the project, she did much of her work sitting up in bed, with 6-10 minute visits to her home studio – a far different setting than the Mudhouse Artist Residency in Crete, where she created Luminary.
She made the most of the pandemic lockdown time, taking audio improvisations and using the editing and production process to compose and compile the composition. Five of the songs – “Ithaca,” “Sopor” the airy and spaciously arranged “Pentacle Path” and “Temperance” and the immersive piano/wordless vocal meditation “Emerald Dreams” – were improv pieces she edited into the final track. Before recording each one, she set a tempo map and a key. To give them direction, she chose a tarot card before she sat down to set the mood and intention for each.
Tapping into her well established singer-songwriter artistry, she also found that lyrics began flowing freely at time – and, starting with the mystical, densely percussive reflection “Unwind” – whose most salient feature is her soaring vocal , these tunes came to form the emotional core of the album. The most engaging of these is the seductive, rhythmically eclectic “Mother Gaia,” a masterful and intricately textured vocal collaboration with 2021 Grammy winner Joanie Leeds and folk/world music/jazz singer Chava Mirel that illuminates the experience of exploring the powers of Mother Earth, womanhood and the divine feminine. A key line: “Worry of the world upon her breast/She revels in the path of our quest.”
The creative success of that track inspired Cheryl to share the truest essence of a soul and body awakening to a new day on the majestic “Awæcnian,” in which she adventurously weaves her lead vocals with those of 37 singers from her independent musician mastermind group Amplify who sent her audio files upon her sending them a few short music prompts. On a more intimate note, the lyrical, inspirational “Anyway You Choose” – a song of passionate longing that finds her caught between doubt and hope – began with her finding a recording of her late father giving her advice that resonates in her life more now than ever: “Anyway you choose is moving on.”
Listen to A Seeker's Slumber here: Spotify – A Seeker's Slumber