It is impossible not to be moved by Cheryl B. Engelhardt’s album The Passenger. The music tells about loss and grief, but also love and hope. Created in its entirety on a nine-day trip between NY and LA (and back again), this deeply poetic release takes the listener on an unforgettable trip of the mind. Each note seems charged with gratitude. Engelhardt has without a doubt delivered one of 2022’s finest New Age music releases – and showed that even a place like a train carriage can be transformed into a studio.
Cheryl B. Engelhardt is a composer and songwriter. She has a degree in Biology and in Music from Cornell University, and she studied orchestration at Juilliard, then began her tenure as a composer for films, ads, theater, and choirs, as well as a touring artist, releasing four piano-pop albums. Her releases in the New Age music genre are: Luminary (2020) A Seeker’s Slumber (2021) and today’s topic; the brand new The Passenger – released on Earth Day 2022. This is definitely an album with a back story. Instead of retelling it, I will let Cheryl present it to us in the below Youtube video (believe me, this well-produced video is really worth seven minutes of your time):
I want to repeat one of the things that Cheryl says in the video; The Passenger is one of the few ambient electronic albums completely mixed, produced and mastered by women.
The Beautiful Bridge
The album opener is called The Beautiful Bridge. It features Grammy-winning musician Lili Haydn of Opium Moon. The slow opening makes the listener pay attention. The melody rises and falls beautifully with a nice hint of improvisation. Haydn’s violin is wonderful and the combination with the ambient backdrop is magnificent! Already at this stage, we can sense the poetry that is The Passenger. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking for the replay button. The Beautiful Bridge is, in short, a fabulous start of the journey.
Here I find it necessary to repeat another thing Engelhardt says in the “Making of” video; the meaning of “The Passenger”. It was her “word of the year, with the intention of getting better at going with the flow, releasing control, and having the grace and confidence of someone who is a master passenger.”
Initially, The Passenger may seem like a quite sad album. Then you will realize that sadness is just one of the feelings in the mix, where the most powerful is gratitude. Gratitude for the people around us (and even the people who are not around us anymore!), gratitude for being on this wonderful trip and gratitude for being alive and able to create. Listen to the ambient The Light That’s Left, and you will sense this too. It is, simply put, a jewel.
The Chariot, which features the Dallas String Quartet, picks up where The Light That’s Left ended and further refines the idea that is The Passenger. Life has to go on, but it will never be the same. The Chariot has an amazing melody and the combination of “real” strings and ambient synths is inspired. There is a melancholy here that you just have to experience for yourself, no words can describe it.
The Misty Cosmos gives time to think. It develops slowly. Suddenly we hear a bright piano and delicate textures. Then a lovely little melody takes shape, making the listener reflect on the enormity of the cosmos and everything in it. The track plays as an intro to The Two Feathers, which features the always brilliant Sherry Finzer. At this stage, it seems like the healing process has started. A feeling of wellness and joy is easy to sense. The Angels’ Lullaby further strengthens this impression. Notice the somewhat abrupt ending; A new chapter begins.
The Zephyr Remembers
The Zephyr Remembers, featuring Sangeeta Kaur, is gentle as the wind. The overall atmosphere is happy and the rhythm emulates the sound of a steam train. The feeling of movement is nicely designed, making the listener feel as if traveling.
The ending is particularly interesting. The Message represents yet another shift in the album’s atmosphere. Its somber sound might indicate that this is a reflection on receiving news about the friend’s death – or it might be another sad message. Danaë Xanthe Vlasse’s piano sounds heavenly. Fans of Suzanne Ciani and Constance Demby will for sure enjoy the album closer, The Ambient Love. The vintage synths are out-of-this-world amazing.
In conclusion: Paulo Coelho once said: “Our life is a constant journey, from birth to death. The landscape changes, the people change, our needs change, but the train keeps moving. Life is the train, not the station.” Listening to Cheryl B. Engelhardt’s The Passenger, that quote seems especially true. Life is all about the journey. But it is also about how the people we meet and the places we go change us. And it is about trying to become a master passenger.
The first time I listened to The Passenger, it was as if I was reading a collection of poems. There is poetry here right on the surface, telling about love, loss and the train’s movement through an ever-changing landscape. It is, from start to finish, breathtakingly beautiful.
The Passenger confirms once again that Cheryl B. Engelhardt is in the elite division of New Age music artists. It shows that she doesn’t need lots of effects or a grand production. Even the fact that she is assisted by Lili Haydn, Sherry Finzer and others doesn’t interfere with the album’s gentleness and personal touch. I think this simple yet elegant expression fits her style splendidly. But its uncomplicated nature doesn’t hide the fact that The Passenger is a monumental release, both in Engelhardt’s discography and in New Age music in general.
One thing seems like an undeniable truth: When you listen to The Passenger, you’ll never travel alone.
For more information and music samples, visit cbemusic.com.
The Passenger is now playing on New Age Stars Radio!
See the New Age Music Guide coverage of Cheryl B. Engelhardt’s here: newagemusic.guide/tag/cheryl-b-engelhardt