Naghmeh and the Southern Shores‘s debut album is all about the journey. It is a collection of folk-rock tunes that could keep you going during a long trip, or give you validation that your spontaneity towards adventure isn’t foolhardy. It could be your road map and your best friend if you let it, though expect to get a little lost along the way. This groups music is celebratory of the pitfalls and triumphs so it’s not your typical free-spirited trip. It’s refreshingly not concerned about getting to the end, but how we get there if we ever truly do.
Frontperson Naghmeh Shafiei is the spiritual leader AND audience surrogate of the album. Much of the lyrics were inspired by her decision to leave a corporate job in California to pursue her musical passions in her home city of Montreal. Though you can easily hear her story in the songs, she wisely makes the underlying emotion universal to anyone who listens. It doesn’t matter if you’re a singer/songwriter or not, we’re all on an ever-changing path, battling with our instincts, dreams, and self-doubts, and as such we are all pretty similar.
The tracklisting has a natural fluidity to it. The opening track, “Dot Dot Dot” is the final straw and choice to throw caution to the wind. “Highway 178” is hitting the open road and “Mount Shasta” is the sense of relief that comes with finally believing in yourself. The second half of the album realistically throws a wrench into everything, which I love. Just because you pack up and leave doesn’t mean your problems are gone. You’ll still miss those you left behind and in the case of the rip-roaring “Obviously,” not everyone is going to support or understand you.
It all culminates in the album’s magnum opus “Magnificent;” a song that doesn’t settle on easy answers. There is no green grass. No finality. The weary mood and slow build give the impression that we are still very much on the road. Naghmeh’s comforting voice pierces through the fog as if to say, to us and maybe herself, that there is beauty in this and it’s best shared with someone even for a day. The last line is “You are magnificent/ And you, my friend, are worthy of the best.” It is a simple sentiment, but it feels earned, true and something we all need to hear.
The band (Seth Duin, Tim Charman, and Don Pinkerton) are the perfect companions for Naghmeh. They never threaten to impede her message, but don’t settle on complacency either. I’d even argue that they provide some of the more rocking moments especially on “Dot Dot Dot” and “Obviously.” That said, for all her generosity, this is very much Naghmeh’s show. She impressively balances honest vulnerability with powerful vocal delivery. I immediately hear a Florence Welch influence, but also can’t help but be reminded of the poetic mysticism and raw energy of Patti Smith as well.
Even though I find Naghmeh and the Southern Shores to be thematically cohesive, there are a few moments where the music plods along a little bit. Although “Millionaire’s Insomnia” and “Greetings from Lesvos” fit on a lyrical level and do provide tonal diversity, to my ear they don’t stand out melodically and especially pale in comparison to the life-affirming “At All” and jaw-dropping “Magnificent.” These are just minor quibbles as the rest of the album is top-notch and worth checking out. If you’re in the midst of some major changes in your life, Naghmeh and the Southern Shores is a solid shoulder to rest on.
Written by Shawn Thicke
*edited by Danielle Kenedy