Thao With The Get Down Stay Down

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )

Like The Linen (2005), 6.5/10
We Brave Bee Stings And All (2008) , 6.5/10
Know Better Learn Faster (2009), 6/10

San Francisco's Vietnamese-American vocalist and guitarist Thao Nguyen wed ordinary girl's vocals and gentle eclecticism on Like The Linen (2005). It is actually two albums in one. One album consists of simple sparse intimate songs such as the soothing waltzing lullaby Hills. The other album is a harder album that features catchy melodies coupled with oblique blues-rock (Gorgeous Thing and Turn Century) and lively numbers in vintage styles (notably the bouncing jugband shuffle What About, which is the album's standout, but also the limping country lament Chivalry and the breezy jazzy swinging City Sky).

The arrangements made the difference on We Brave Bee Stings And All (Kill Rock Stars, 2008), credited to just her first name, a more complex affair both emotionally and musically. The music for her meditations and confessions have become aggressive and tortuous (Beat, Fear And Convenience). More importantly, her skills in revisiting and hijacking styles of the past is now benefiting from a professional backing band. This allows her personal cabaret to incorporate jazz ballads (both the cocktail-lounge variety, as in Geography, and the brass-band variety, as in Feet Asleep, bluegrass music (Swimming Pools, the album's standout), and transfigured blues (Violet, Big Kid Table). Yes So And And So On could be a catchy melody of the 1960s, if it weren't so criminally slowed down, and Travel sounds like a faithful tribute to the Band's majestic soul-rock.

The melancholy confessional concept Know Better Learn Faster (Kill Rock Stars, 2009), credited to Thao With The Get Down Stay Down, explored the darker side of her psyche with both larger and smaller sonic devices. When We Swam, that evokes the 1960s of the dance crazes, shows that her skills at transforming classic styles are intact. The jumping blues novelty Cool Yourself (reminiscent of Italian disco acts such as Ricchi E Poveri) also unveils the ironic side of her persona. Generally speaking, she seems to try a bit too hard, like in the punkish Body, but the result is that too many songs remain at the stage of harmless shuffles (Trouble Was For the best one). There are great melodies like the one in Good Bye Good Luck that get wasted. The most original moment comes with Easy, a sort of funk Caribbean dance reminiscent of the new wave of the 1970s that complements Cool Yourself and When We Swam. She sounds a lot more sincere in the slow whispered lament Oh No with a much more subdued instrumental accompaniment; but the trend seems to be towards the disco.

(Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi | Legal restrictions - Termini d'uso )
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