The Sky and the Caspian Sea is an enchanting collection of torch songs from a young Welsh-Iranian singer, Roshi Nasehi. Roshi takes elements of Iranian folk song and blends them into her own, decisively modern take on the ballad. Accompanying herself on piano and backed by a superb three-piece group, Roshi threads her way through these songs with swanlike grace and imparts a deeply moving sense of spiritual and cultural ‘otherness’.
Eight of the songs are Roshi’s own, the other three being arrangements of traditional Iranian songs. As fine as the latter are, it’s the original compositions that strike the hardest. Roshi’s voice is a thing of beauty and wonder, airy and floaty yet possessed of an inner toughness that spills out when she sings lines like “perhaps I’m not thriving after all, ’cos there ain’t nobody home”. That “ain’t” sounds mightily incongruous when placed alongside a word like “thriving” and sung with such innate purity; yet it’s the mix of the formal and the vernacular that makes the song (“Not Thriving”) so chillingly effective.
Born in Wales to Iranian parents, Roshi’s family background is clearly important to her; Mum and Dad are thanked on the cover for sharing songs and stories, and Dad is roped in to play violin on one track. Here and there, though, she dwells on her westernised lifestyle as a route to pleasure and liberation. On “No Camels”, she revels in the freedom to remove her headscarf on an aeroplane. “Night Swimming”, meanwhile, is a gorgeous nocturnal reverie where respect for tradition (“Towers and mosques regain nobility in the dark”) is balanced by a certain illicit thrill (“We are women acting improperly, swimming at night in the cool… strangely illegal, and equally young”).
Undercurrents of strangeness flow through the record, courtesy of the splendidly-named Graham Dids-Gagarin’s unobtrusive electronic atmospheres and sampled radio sounds. There’s cello accompaniment too, but at the end of the day what makes the album so special is the steely eloquence of Roshi’s texts and the exquisite sighs with which she voices them.
(Originally published in The Sound Projector 19, 2011)