It's probably a hangover from watching too many Hollywood movies, but when I think of Eastern Europe, I can't help seeing in my mind's eye a dark and mysterious landscape. Gloomy forests climbing the sides of sharp mountains suddenly give way to deep lakes under whose surface lie mysteries better left undisturbed. It's hard to imagine the sun ever shining in this environment, let alone it ever being daytime, as if it exists in a state of permanent twilight. It's in woods like these you'll find the gingerbread cottage of "Hansel and Gretel", or perhaps chance upon a girl in a red cloak making her way to her grandmother's house.
However, in spite of the darkness, there's also a haunting beauty which can take your breath away in the same way that plunging into an icy mountain stream will leave you gasping for air and in pleasure at the same time. Yet it's a beauty that seems tinged with sorrow, like a heartbreaking poem or song. Perhaps it's an overly romantic view of something I know very little about, but it's also based on knowing some of the history of the region and the hardships faced by a great many of those who have lived there. Subsistence farms carved out of available land, continual invasions by one army or another, and the twentieth century's contribution to horror - ethnic cleansing after the fall of Yugoslavia and the death camps of WWll.
A new release by vocalist Lily Storm, If I Had A Key To The Dawn on her own Songbat Records label, of primarily traditional songs from that region shows, no matter the country or language, the music does nothing to dispel those impressions. Whether Russian, Armenian, Albanian, Romanian, Bulgarian or Hungarian each of the songs she performs on this disc are beautiful but hint at sorrow in their music and lyrics. Yet for some reason there is nothing depressing about them either, as the honesty of emotion exhibited by each song is beautiful onto itself.
One of the hardest things about singing in a language, or as in this cases languages, that your audience is not going to understand is to communicate with them the nature of the song. Although Storm has included translations for all the lyrics they aren't really needed to make these songs work for us as she shows herself capable of expressing their overall feeling with her voice. What I really appreciated about her singing is this is the type of situation where a singer could very easily give in to the temptation to over emote in order to get their message across. Storm not only refrains from doing that, she is also able to imbue her voice with character that gives the listener an idea of the story behind the song as well as the emotional content.