Art and soul share Club Passim stage Friday with Engel, Fox performances
The ethereal, androgynous, Montreal-based singer-songwriter Clara Engel, who has cast her spell over audiences from Paris and Berlin to San Francisco and New York, will be bringing her magic to Harvard Square’s Club Passim on Aug. 26 alongside local soulsters What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?
With a hauntingly expressive voice that invites comparison to those of Lisa Gerrard of Dead Can Dance, Diamanda Galas and Sinead O’Connor, Engel’s deliciously eerie timbre is nonetheless a flavor all its own. Both poet and singer — like Patti Smith, one of her influences — Engel draws inspiration from a variety of sources, such as old bluesmen Robert Johnson and Howlin’ Wolf, minimalist composer Arvo Pärt, gender-bending balladeer Antony Hegarty and the surrealist movement.
Though her music is typically assembled from a few basic unadorned elements — her beguiling voice, one or two instruments, some form of plain percussion, a back-up voice or two — these elements are often set slightly at odds with each other in subtly complex ways, undulating in and out of concord. Determinedly avoiding the boisterous and turbulent, her melodies and lyrics nevertheless arrive soaking with savage passion, each song addressing the hearer like a love letter from the devil. No doubt for this very quality, her smoldering slices of eros were chosen to accompany runway shows at London’s fashion week last year.
“Clara Engel’s voice comes to me from that deepest of all places, imaginative space, from which she visually retrieves an inner landscape converted by breath into the rock equivalent of poetry. Rarely has a voice sounded so authoritative, so unapologetic in its disclosures, so sure of its direction in going home into song,” British poet Jeremy Reed said.
“To hear her is to be astonished,” said Brian King, the flamboyant lead singer of What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?, with whom she’ll share the stage at Passim. “Her voice is gorgeous beyond description. It’s like being in the presence of an ecstatic mystic.”
King and Engel have made a habit of performing together since discovering each other’s music online five years ago. They have a penchant for mainlining the rawest human emotion during public performances and playing openly with gender conventions. They have shared stages in Boston and New York, and King introduced her to a packed audience of artists and poets in his hometown of Gloucester last summer.
King’s band, What Time Is It, Mr. Fox?, makes sexy soul music with an artschool edge, taking inspiration from literature, history, theater and pop culture. In performance, their songs are often bracketed and illuminated by King’s sardonic anecdotes of growing up gay in working-class Gloucester. The band’s “Cold Rain” was recorded by Irma Thomas on her 2008 Grammy-nominated CD “Simply Grand.” What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? features Brian King on lead vocals, acoustic guitar and piano, Nathan Cohen on violin and trumpet, Mike Leggio on upright bass, Lori Perkins on Hammond organ, Nate Greenslit on drums and backup vocals by The Furies, (Elizabeth Bean, Shana Cahill, Ruth Lingford, Norah Solorzano and Aura Valdes.)
Clara Engel and What Time Is It, Mr. Fox? perform Friday at Club Passim, 47 Palmer St., Harvard Square at an all-ages show. Tickets are $13 for club members and $15 for nonmembers and can be bought at the door or online.