by Michele Zipkin
In this day in our pop-soaked music age, it’s getting less common to find a musician who can sing live with the same passion and purity of tone as Lily Kershaw. This past Sunday night, the twenty-two year old Los Angeles native cooed and belted out arresting melodies at Ortlieb’s- Philly’s time-honored jazz and rock spot.
Backed by a guitarist and pianist, Kershaw sang unrestrained by musical instrument against glowing red lighting- all too appropriate for her sultry mezzo-alto. Her music, like the texture of her voice, has a unique dichotomy- it possesses a brightness in the instrumentals, but an inherent somberness in the lyrics.
The young, gregarious artist kicked off the set with tunes from her recently release debut album, Midnight in the Garden. What a presence she had- she sang with such charisma, adamantly moving her hands as she sang emotionally-transparent melodies and recounted vivid stories.
A few songs into the set Kershaw playfully asked the audience if there were any Leonard Cohen fans, and then began to breathe her sweet, sultry vocal swagger into the iconic songwriter’s “Chelsea Hotel No. 2.” What a breath of fresh air it was to hear a woman sing the song we’ve all come to know through Cohen’s deep, grizzly voice. She also sang a slightly accelerated version of Elliott Smith’s “Between the Bars,” which was almost as haunting as the original, perhaps also heard slightly anew from the perspective of the female voice.
One of the most poignant and popular songs on this debut effort, “As It Seems,” is built on an overarching theme of death, so Kershaw details in a press release. She prefaced the song by saying “…If anyone has met me before… this is the reason…” The reason, one can only assume, why she dedicates her life to making music.
Another point of intensity in the evening of music came with the song “Ashes Like Snow,” also from the new album. She revealed that it was a song ten years in the making, that she had written poetry that would become one of the verses when she was just ten, right after the catastrophic events of 9/11. She found a copy of her initial words a decade later, when she was an adult, and finished writing the song. She sang it that night as zealously as she had on the recording.
Keep an ear out for the stories and melodies that this bright, soulful young artist will impart next.