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.