By Bruce Bahmani
April 10, 2003
Recently I was contacted by a certain Hassan, husband of new artist
Shahla Rezvani. He wanted to send me a new album to review. I didn't
think much of it, it seems that Iranians are at a phase where books
and music are flourishing like never before. I have another album
and 3 books to review after this! And I have to tell you, it's a
great pleasure to see this. You don't know how sick of technology
I am, especially after last year! I think if I hear one more story
about one more Iranian electrical engineer making it big in a bio-tech
startup, I will toss my tahdeeg! So sending me something nice to
review like a book or a new album is a complete pleasure.
I received the album, as expected from the title [Cheshman-e-Siah,
Dark Eyes] there were the prerequisite pictures of eyes on it. But
there was a simplicity and genuineness in the eyes (which I later
learned were pictures taken of Shahla herself), that I was unexplainably
As always, I waited until the next morning and popped the CD in
my truck to listen to during my 40 minute commute to the very belly
of the beast, the place I hang my shingle, Silicon Valley Hillbillies,
Swimmin' pools, IPO stars!
My technique is not sophisticated, I scan through the album first,
looking for gems, and then when I find them, I focus on those for
a while, then give the whole album a proper listening to from head
I scanned the album, I heard a familiar sound that I had not heard
since Tehran 1977. It was on (the then named) Pahlavi Avenue in
the late spring afternoons, where me and my friends would hang out,
that special place just below the FBI (Foroushgah-e-Bozorg-e-Iran)
and Chattanooga restaurant, just a nudge away from Aleeghapoo. The
happeningest place in all the world (at the time.). Girls in short
black miniskirts sat dangerously side saddle on their boyfriends'
Honda 750's that screamed up and down the main boulevard.
The album took me back, and at first I thought that this must have
been recorded back then and somehow lost in the mad rush of the
pop exodus of the revolution. Resurfaced it was now being re-issued
for a glory it never had the chance to enjoy. That's what I thought.
full 3 days later having listened to it non-stop, I finally had
to know and called up Shahla's husband Hassan to ask about the album.
It is not a throwback lost album as I had thought, but completely
original material except for the Russian standard O'chin Chorneya
which is refreshingly sung in Farsi as "Cheshmaan Seyaah"
(there is a full Russian version at the end), and a farsi version
of "Lullaby" which I am sure Iranian mothers have been
dying to sing to their kids. Now you can!
My absolute favorite is "Baavar
Kon" which is one of those songs that you daydream about
driving to Shomal or Dizin (Sniff! Ah! I can smell the Mahi Kabab
at Lashgarak!) and you cannot get the main chorus out of your head.
Followed by "Hamraaz"
make a great back to back pop set.
I mention dat da girl got pipes? Shahla has an incredible range;
from a deep and dark haunting whisper on "To Begoo" to
an almost childlike voice on "Zaghikner" (Armenian). Shahla
sings in 4 languages on this album which sounds like an incredible
feat, except that she grew up that way which explains the ease at
which she accomplishes this. But it's all so fresh!
arranged by Manouchehr Cheshmazar (we are not worthy!), the support
textures of each song are almost perfect. On "Zaghikner"
you can almost smell the cafe au lait on a Paris streetside cafe
as the accordion and flute play. There is a healthy blend of what
in my old age I like to call "real" instruments with the
electronic ones we have become numb to. Flutes, cello and all surrounded
and enveloped by Shahla's powerful distinctive voice. You would
again be surprised by Shahla's voice except when you find out that
she was classically trained since 9 and won numerous singing awards
when she was in Iran.
There is a genuine compassion in her voice that comes through in
this album. Maybe because it's her first one or maybe it's because
she really believes in these songs, or maybe it has to do with the
fact that in her real life Shahla is a social worker helping people
in the San Francisco Bay Area.. Either way and for any reason you
like, you can't deny this is a pretty good album for a first timer.
I can't wait to see what she comes up with next.
Thanks to hubby Hassan for helping me discover Shahla!
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