When it comes to the notion of identity, the choice of a solo artist to call himself We/Or/Me would seem to imply or invent some level of confusion, or at least ambiguity. This is understandable in the case of Bahhaj Taherzadeh, a performer of mixed Irish and Iranian descent who lives in Chicago.
So it is something of a surprise to find a collection of songs that feature almost exclusively acoustic instruments from the western popular music tradition. When he does make use of his heritage it is subtle. For the most part these songs are rooted in the Anglo-American singer-songwriter tradition – think Paul Simon, Nick Drake, early Van Morrison and the Greenwich Village scene.
Taherzadeh was discovered – and talked into recording – by Swell Season/Frames frontman Glen Hansard. Before that he had only performed for himself and his close friends, and accordingly his songs have something almost private about them, like secrets being shared for the first time. In fact, if it wasn’t for the excellent and accommodating production – courtesy of Adam Selzer, whose CV includes work with M.Ward – some of these songs would barely be there at all.
Dusty Roads has a typically American feel to it, concerned as it is with themes of travel and parting. The careworn delivery and ample use of the harmonica make early Dylan an obvious reference point, but the soft, sympathetic backing vocals on the simple refrain hint that Taherzadeh’s influences also encompass more contemporary Americana. The Dylan influence is made flesh in The Long Goodbye, where the man himself gets a mention. Here a slow, melancholy set of piano chords are joined by mournful strings and guitar to deliver a bittersweet meditation on loss.
Dreaming Heart is like a slower, sadder (but somehow more hopeful) version of Donovan’s Catch The Wind, a shimmer of fingerpicked acoustic guitar underpinning a graceful vocal arrangement, while the strings that swoon in and out of Currents of Time give the piece a distinct chamber-folk feel.
The passage of time is one of a number of recurring themes on this record. Always/Sometimes – a deceptively slight performance with shuffling percussion – neatly ties the time motif into a reflection on creativity and imagination. Orla Brown – cut into verses by short, pretty, wonky piano snippets – does away with generality and abstraction in favour of the concrete and the personal. This song, perhaps more than any other on the album, seems to have its roots in the Ireland of Taherzadeh’s past rather than the America of his present. As such presents a different view of his lyrical preoccupation with time. Sea Wall successfully marries the abstract (in this case the struggle to come to terms with, amongst other things, divinity) to the (literally) concrete.
The first clear nod to Taherzadeh’s Middle Eastern heritage is Haifa Bay, but even here the musical language remains resolutely neutral. That is not to say that it is in any way dull. Rather, the minimal clarity of the arrangements throughout helps maintain a refreshing honesty. If the musical backdrops are straightforward, the lyrical concerns are more ambivalent. ‘I’m a child of the half-light,’ he sings in Half-Light, and it seems like a discrete confession about the difficulty of knowing exactly where to fit in, or perhaps an admittance that it is better off not to fit in.
There seems to be a kind of ‘why whisper when you can shout?’ attitude in music at the moment, a need to show off as many influences as possible in three minutes. This is fine: contemporary life is busy and contemporary music sometimes needs to reflect this. But the opposite is also true. Periods of reflection are gratifying but also necessary. The last song on Everything Behind Us Is A Dream is called Slow Dance Dream, and it touches upon one of the reasons that this album is so good: in dreams time can be stretched, and that stretching creates its own oneiric logic. In good dreams this logic is one of clarity and simplicity. The same could be said for good music.
Review by: Thomas Blake
Everything Behind Us is a Dream is Out Now
Order it via Bandcamp
Don’t miss his upcoming gig at The Harrison, London, on Feb 17.