Anahita invites an audience into the song with her voice. The sell is soft, but the payload is as potent in its warmth as any set of power chords and a light show. I think she can hold a note forever and hold off on the vibrato 'til it's absolutely right. She may be across between k.d. lang, Joan Baez and Leslie Gore. This album combines reverence and skepticism with folksinger sincerity. Her voice is like the reflection of a candle in the window on the night of a thunderstorm.
It's Christmas season in Ohio, with snow on the ground and I'm living here without family. Anahita's album begins with encouragement in a pop song to fight off despair, and leads to a smoothly connected view of a spiritual world I can feel. K.d. lang's Song of the 49th Parallel took me to a similar place with covers of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen, as did Jane Siberry on 'When I Was A Boy' and St. Leonard Cohen with his 'Hallelujah.' I have rejected the dogmatic certainty of the religion of my youth. In this album, I have found the legato of longing for a higher love right here in the day-to-day. That honesty and intentional simplicity in Anahita's songs takes me to that quiet place in my heart. I can believe in her because her longing for the infinite is unfettered by certainty. When the choir marched in half step down either aisle in Central Assemblies of God in El Sobrante singing, 'There's a highway to heaven. None can walk up there but the pure in heart' some 40 years ago, I felt a timeless presence. That feeling is available to me in When We Were.
I sense the struggle to believe in love throughout this album. Through the grinding guitar of the song Pity, I feel the power of Theodore Roethke's phrase, 'A real hurt is soft.' The arrogance of pity is abandoned to a simple prayer of hope, over a grunge guitar sound. That's hope I can believe in. I believe a good record collection has an album for all that you feel. This album presents a world both delicate and strong. There is an uncertain reverence to these songs worthy of an agnostic hymnal. Love is longed for here. That album is making the season better for me. This album is a passport to a simpler and kinder place where wonder, reverence and the real world are at peace with each other.
1. IT'S ANOTHER DAY is an invitation come out and live set sweet 60s girl-band pop powered by Duvid Swirsky's grunge-tone rhythm guitar. 'I know you want to lay in the sun and melt away 'cause you're making the same mistakes.' For a song of encouragement to matter, I believe it must not be afraid of the dark. Anahita sets the stakes with the opening lines: 'I don't understand why you're still here. Just turn out the light say goodbye to your tired fear.' This is a touchy subject. I've lost a couple of close relatives to despair. Truth is, a song without a little darkness can drain the sap out of the tree of life. Anahita continues: 'It's just another walk in the park. It's just another day. Won't you come out to play, my friend . . .?' I think she gets it right. Experience is a good medicine to treat despair. In that place this side of numb on the road to a bad decision, an invite from Anahita to 'come out and play' would challenge the darkest depression. Misery loves company.
2. DON'T MAKE ME RUN takes a turn toward the kind of ballad you might find on a k.d. lang album. 'You tell me you're dancing alone in your head.' Now there's a trick in the theater I saw once in Pinter's 'Old Times' where a monolog was almost repeated to great effect. The differences are everything. Anahita draws that kind of comparison in two similar phrases in this song:
'You won't tell a soul what I've seen. You promised you'd never let me be. You're breaking my back just to breathe. I'm beggin' you, please, don't make me run. I'm too tired to fall out of love.' And later in the song: 'I won't tell a soul what I've seen. I promised I'd never let you be. I'm breaking my back just to breathe. I'm beggin' you, please, don't make me run. I'm too tired to fall out of love.' The promises between in this couple are about the same, but it's Anahita's back gets broke both times. She's 'too tired to fall.' As though taxed by the effort, she starts the phrase again, 'I'm too tired to fall out of love.' I've felt that before. I didn't have a name for it, but now I've got a song. Luke Miller's organ is magic -- at times sounding like a fluttering marimba in support of the emotion of the song. Listen for it. It's subtle.
3. LETTER OF LOVE is a waltz to the one gives her 'a letter of love.' 'You've taken my heart and you've buried my heart in your hands.' The organ plays Nicky Hopkins clear in this strident pop cycle. 'You give me a letter of love and you give me a feeling of hope . . .' This is pop with a voice like Mary Hopkins singing 'Those Were The Days' with the 'La la las.' This is a song of thanks.
4. GLORY This is a song to stop a holy war. 'Singing Glory Hallelujah. I've never seen his face before. Sing glory glory glory.' This is an honest hymn. 'I'm trying to find my voice here in your prayers inside your walls.' I feel a deep wave of reverence in this song. I want to sing along in doubt linked with longing. 'I've lost you in these prayers within these halls.' Some hymns require a minor key. 'I'm begging to make some sense of these holy stairs and all this talk.' Simple and beautiful.
5. WHEN WE WERE has a haunting sound and a spirit I don't remember feeling since Emmylou Harris singing 'Til I Gain Control Again.' 'Take me down to the river's edge . . .' begins and a sentimental journey to the time 'the way it was when we had it all.' I don't know who Anahita is singing to, but the feel is that of a mournful prayer. 'Won't you please stay around 'til it's all back again.' The soul sings when it longs for home. Love has been lost. The final prayer. 'Please stay around 'til it's all back again . . . 'til my love's back again.'
6. PITY 'you, with your pity eyes' begins with a grunge assault and the flame of Anahita's voice burning through in sympathy: 'Beg for your day to come. Beg for your freedom, in this life.' An odd question: 'Do you feel the wind and sea?' There is a mention of 'God's grace.' I believe the begging changes to praying. The guitar is gone. A classical arrangement on a grand piano takes us to a different place. The dubious honor of pity has given way to a kind of redemption. This Pity offers a higher love.
7. WONDER admits it does know in the opening: 'Don't really know where I am in this place. / Pushed, pulled and tugged, I wonder if you know. / Could it be, my love? / Could it be?' The keyboard plays in strict time like a harpsichord, and suggesting a calliope. A answer comes: 'He said it's as though I might be misplaced. / Round and round he goes. / I wonder if he knows.'
8. SO REMEMBER brings the tech down to the sound of an autoharp and something like a plucked piano string. This simplest of songs may be the most effective. These short phrases have all the detail they need: 'Oh, you said you loved me / Oh, you cried 'Forgive me!' / You dream a life together / So tell me you love me forever.'
9. GIVING UP starts with the chords and pace of Who Knows Where The Time Goes, singing: 'You've lost your broken heart now.' A backing perfect choir of gospel voices sings under all like wind through the trees. The song 'gives it up to Jesus' and continues on. 'Giving up' is letting go in a hymn to grace. Some things must be left to the angels.
10. IT'S ALRIGHT has the simplicity and the sound like that of a concertina over a gut string lute. The lyrics are as sparse and haunting as 'Waters of March' by Jobim. 'You're reaching / I'm grieving / Let's take a walk / This time let's fall / Into the field / We'll run 'til dawn / You're turning back / This time you're gone.' There is elegant emotion in this loss. Quiet acceptance of 'one walking on' brings this song home to me. 'It's alright, let's say goodbye. It's alright, let's say goodbye. It's alright, let's say goodbye.'
ALL SONGS WRITTEN BY ANAHITA
Anahita ~ vocals, acoustic guitar, piano
Jason Hiller ~ bass, acoustic & electric guitars, drums, organ, percussion, glockenspiel
Jose Medeles ~ drums
Ken Barclay ~ acoustic & electric guitar
Michael Doman ~ acoustic guitar
Luke Miller ~ organ, piano, Rhodes
Chris Joyner ~ piano, organ, accordian
Jeremy Ruzumna ~ organ
David Goodstein ~ drums
Siavash Farahani ~ piano