Youn Sun Nah: Same Girl (2010)
Korean singer Youn Sun Nah has come a long way in a short time, since casting off from her French quintet of a decade and turning down a five-album deal from Label Bleu, in order to pursue absolute artistic freedom. Her ACT debut, Voyage (ACT Music, 2009), was a stylish introduction to a strikingly original voice, one which blurred the lines between jazz, folk and pop. On Same Girl, the core musicians from Voyage remain, as does the music's eclectic range. So, yes, on the surface: same girl. However, on Same Girl, there is a shift to a greater role as an interpretive singer, with two originals compared to Voyage's five, and Nah exploring slightly darker, emotionally edgier terrain than before.
On "My Favorite Things," Nah effectively delves into the jazz canon, so closely is the song associated with saxophonist John Coltrane. Nah deconstructs Roger and Hammerstein' pretty show tune, gently plucking a kalimba and turning the tune into something dreamy and haunting that would work well in a horror movie with a possessed child in a big house with glass-eyed dolls. Nah adopts a similarly stripped-down approach to Randy Newman's bittersweet and ambiguous take on heroin addiction and love, "Same Girl." Nah's fragile, broken-soul delivery here, and on Sergio Mendes' beautifully melancholic "Song of No Regrets," are reminiscent of Tom Waits' balladry---sad, yet seductive.
By contrast, there is energy and fire aplenty in Jackson C. Frank 's "My Name is Carnival," from a little-known and rather tragic American folk singer who recorded one album in the mid 1960s , which impacted the likes of Nick Drake, Bert Jansch, Simon and Garfunkle, and Fairport Convention, before fading, and dying years later in obscurity. Guitarist Ulf Wakenius' "Baghdad Breakfast" features percussionist Xavier Desandre-Navarre's urgent Arabic rhythms, Lars Danielsson's menacing bowed cello, and Nah's Brazilian-inspired scatting, which flies hand-in-hand with Wakenius; an atmospheric number which conjures images of speeding through the eternally, trouble-plagued city.
On British drummer Terry Cox's "Moondog," the quartet exhibits the effortless, country-blues shuffle of a Bill Frisell group, with Nah taking a lovely, kazoo-inflected vocal solo. The two Nah originalsthe brooding "Uncertain Weather" and the quirky, rapid-fire "Pancake"couldn't be more different, and respectively reveal a singer drawn to melancholy, and one who is playful and experimental. These two traits are also seen in the lovely Korean folk song, "Kangwondo Arirang"a nostalgic blues in Nah's handsand "Enter Sandman," a powerful, acoustic take on the Metallica number, where Nah gives full rein to her adventurous vocal improvisations.
Nah's refusal to limit herself to the well-known vocal repertory already marks her out from the pack. On the occasion when she does fish from The Great American Songbook, the results are utterly refreshing. Add to that a distinctive, undeniably beautiful voice with great technical control, and it seems that Youn Sun Nah's ongoing musical voyage knows no limits.
Track Listing: My Favorite Things; My Name is Carnival; Breakfast in Baghdad; Uncertain Weather; Song of No Regrets; Kangwondo Arirang; Enter Sandman; Same Girl; Moondog; Pancake; La Chanson d'Helene.
Personnel: Youn Sun Nah: vocals, kalimba, music box, kazoo; Ulf Waenius: guitars; Lars Danielsson: acoustic bass, cello; Xavier Desandre-Navarre: percussion; Roland Brival:narration (11).