Lisa Engelken’s Little Warrior does precisely what a good sophomore album should: build upon a solid base (her 2010 debut, Caravan) while growing more adventurous and, by extension, more original. Working with a superb West Coast rhythm section—bassist Sam Bevan, drummer Matthew Swindells (both from Caravan) and pianist Bill Cantos—augmented by brass, strings, percussion and backing vocals from 13 interwoven guests, Engelken wades in gently with her own “Foggy Bottom,” a staccato elegy to a dying relationship, followed by a breezy, Brasil ’66-esque take on Signor Rossi’s “Viva la Felicità.”
About midway through the third track—a cover of the Cars’ “You Wear Those Eyes” that progresses from tiptoe to sashay to orgasmic eruption—Engelken’s natural state, that of a barely contained pressure cooker, is revealed. She keeps the lid secured across a bewitching “Throw It Away”; then, fittingly, she explodes on “Housemate From Hell,” a wail-fueled cacophony that seems the nightmare version of “Eleanor Rigby.” The untamed brilliance continues through “Undertow,” Engelken’s chillingly hypnotic reinterpretation of Wayne Shorter’s “Nefertiti,” and a storm-dotted navigation of Chick Corea’s “Sea Journey.”
To close, Engelken reinforces her versatility with an ice-cool rendering of Joni Mitchell’s “Cold Blue Steel and Sweet Fire” that gradually turns blistering, an edge-of-madness reading of Tom Waits’ “Blue Valentines,” and a sparkling “All I Do Is Dream of You” that’s at once wholesome and wicked.