Lilium may be two-thirds of the venerable Denver-based alt-country collective 16 Horsepower, but Short Stories, the band's second release, is a beautifully moody and atmospheric record that suggests this is far more than a side project.

Multi-instrumentalists Pascal Humbert and Jean-Yves Tola make up the core of Lilium. Together they create a dark pastiche of American and European folk songs, country music, blues and rock. The tales on Short Stories are of broken hearts, loneliness, love, bitterness and regret. Each song is another dusty old room full of dusty old furniture and photos of a happier life. The whiskey-soaked melancholy is reminiscent of the work of Congo Norvell, Tindersticks and even late-career Swans.

Though the album is held together by this unifying ambience, there is also a great deal of variety to Short Stories. On the lovely Spanish/English song of lost love, "Sorry," male and female vocals intertwine to hypnotic effect. Lyrical ballads like "If They Cheered" alternate with lush instrumentals like the elegant finger-styled track, "Miles Away." Accordions, pianos, acoustic guitars, dobros, cellos, violins, organs, vibraphones and saxophones all contribute to the opulence.

In addition to Humbert and Tola, Short Stories features the talents of a number of gifted guests: 16 Horsepower's David Eugene Edwards lends his vocals to "Whitewashed," a captivatingly dark ballad that sounds like Iggy Pop doing his best Tom Waits; John Grant of the Czars provides his dulcet, resonant voice on what is otherwise the record's weakest track, "The Trap"; and finally, the brilliant Dana Colley -- whose innovative saxophone work helped define the sound of guitarless greats Morphine -- supplies soulful woodwind sentiments, most notably on the spy-movie instrumental "Cavalcade." These guests add an exciting dimension to the already richly orchestrated compositions of Humbert and Tola.

Perhaps the strongest track on the record is the modified twelve-bar blues "Lover." Beginning with down-home bottleneck-style resonator guitar and giving way at the midpoint to overdriven electric blues, the song is the most rock-oriented track on the album, yet it manages to maintain the rootsy quality that characterizes the band's work.

This limited U.S. release of Short Stories also includes three tracks composed by Pascal Humbert for "The Rain Has Forgotten Us," a short film by Mary-Lyn Chambers about the joys and perils of getting back to the earth. These three instrumentals blend seamlessly with the cinematic quality of the rest of the record and provide a fittingly introspective coda to a gorgeously sad album.


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