Lily Storm: If I Had a Key to the Dawn

Photo: Joshua Levy

The songs she has chosen sound like laments, or the love songs of women whose lovers are absent.

Lily Storm

If I Had a Key to the Dawn

Label: Songbat
US Release Date: 2009-06-23
UK Release Date: Import

On this album, her first solo release after a recording career spent primarily with the vocal ensemble Kitka, American Lily Storm sings Eastern European songs, Balkan songs, Russian songs, and songs from the Mediterranean. A broad collection. She takes the music seriously, too. "She has studied with many traditional singers", her website states, and then it goes on to list them: Donka Koleva, Kremena Stancheva, Merita Halili, Mariana Sadovska, Christos Govetas, Carl Linich, Tsvetanka Varimezova, Radostina Kaneva, and Tatiana Sarbinska. Photographs show her clear-eyed and composed, looking dignified and a little stern, as if she thinks she might be able to dissect the horizon by outstaring it. It is not exactly a scholar's gaze. She looks as if she means to get on top of things. "I refrain from innovation for innovation's sake", she writes, "but I cannot help but also bring to [the songs] an American and modern perspective. For that reason, I also want to point towards those who are closer than I am to the original traditions". Then she gives us a list of other musicians we should be listening to. "Hayrik Mouradian has recorded a wealth of songs from the Lake Van region … Éva Kanalas performs ancient Moldavian songs with purity and grace … there is a 7-volume collection of [Russian] field recordings on the label Boheme Music which is fascinating".

This is my longwinded way of explaining that If I Had a Key to the Dawn is in absolutely no way a frivolous album. Eugene Hütz would be her polar opposite. Her singing on If I Had a Key to the Dawn is mostly low and plaintive and the instruments that accompany her attune themselves sympathetically to her mood. The Armenian woodwind known as a duduk hoots through the speakers like an owl. Something like a harp tickles itself throughout a Hungarian song called "Love, Love". The tenseness of this harp-tremble suggests that the song is constantly about to erupt into something noisier -- it's like the tension that comes before a punchline -- but this never happens. The song ends. The album is like that: a long waiting quiver.

The songs she has chosen sound like laments, or the love songs of women whose lovers are absent. Hearing these songs, you'd guess that they were originally the self-expression of people who were not rich, not famous, and never dreamt they would become so. They suffered, not a sudden disaster, but one long chain of minor or major unhappinesses extending throughout their lives. They are not angered by the situation, but resigned, and a bit tired, not really expecting anything to change, and not about to do anything to change it. The tone is an intimate, humble, ongoing ache. The power of the songs lies in the simple intensity of that humility.

Storm draws out the melancholy faithfully, carrying long notes and making them wriggle a little as they travel, shaking the note like a handkerchief to get your attention. That shake lets us know that the emotion in this person is so strong it's affecting her voice. Where the steadiness of a Gregorian chant demonstrates the singer's faith in the unchanging nature of God, the wriggle in the village lament demonstrates the singer's faith in the fallibility of humankind. The lover might be estranged from you forever, the dead have died in vain, life is miserable and could get worse. We are leaning on the fallible.

I was three quarters of the way through If I Had a Key to the Dawn when I realised I could not, in retrospect, distinguish one song from another. I had no idea what they had sounded like individually. The track that made this idea occur to me is called "Green Leaf of a Pear Tree" and it was the first song that seemed different from the rest. It starts with an accordion, and the accordion is bright, it's prancing -- not humble like the rest, just a kick of sound. After all that lamenting I'd forgotten that a noise like this could exist. The publicity tells us that "the pieces flow together a series of dreams" and so they do, but emotionally the dream-series is a bit of a monoculture. In this respect the album, though beautiful, is frustrating, like a very handsome person who never smiles, who never laughs too much or cries or screams, and yet you can't stop admiring the keen perfection of their cheekbones.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.