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Youn Sun Nah: Same Girl

Bruce Lindsay By

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Same Girl is Youn Sun Nah's seventh album, and finds the young Korean singer continuing to explore an eclectic mix of original songs and left-field covers in the company of the stylish trio that joined her on Voyage (ACT, 2009). By turns funny, inventive, dramatic, melodramatic and reflective Same Girl confirms Nah's abilities as a vocalist and interpreter.

Guitarist Ulf Wakenius, bassist Lars Danielsson and percussionist Xavier Desandre-Navarre all played on Voyage, and keeping the ensemble together was a wise decision, as these are superb musicians, whose backing is always sympathetic. Nah's voice is terrific—it has range, power and emotion. Her vocalese on Wakenius' "Breakfast in Baghdad" is impressive—strong and melodic, it is constantly inventive as she interweaves with Wakenius' guitar.

Nah's weak point is her tendency to cross the line between drama and melodrama when a song demands aggression or anger from the singer. On Jackson C Frank's "My Name Is Carnival" and Metallica's "Enter Sandman" Nah's vocal veers into melodrama too often, thrusting each song's underlying mystery and threat dangerously close to comic opera territory despite Wakenius' measured and precise guitar.

For most of the album Nah is in more comfortable territory—she has a genuine talent for humor, for quiet reflection or for the romantic or sensual. Nah's reworking of Rodgers and Hammerstein's "My Favorite Things" takes the song well away from the saccharine Von Trapp family version. It's a solo performance: Nah accompanies herself sparingly on the kalimba and sings as if she is revealing some of her most intimate secrets.

Nah's interpretation of Randy Newman's "Same Girl" is beautifully melancholic. Once again it's a solo performance, with only the kalimba for company, and Nah interprets the song with genuine emotion. She takes the ambiguity of Newman's lyric and, rather than resolving it, reconstructs it by subtle phrasings and emphases. On "Uncertain Weather," one of her own compositions, her voice is crystalline and pure as she sings the album's most romantic and seductive song.

Nah's sense of humor pervades many of the tracks: it's great to hear a jazz singer who is willing to have fun. Nah revitalizes the kazoo, overdue for its jazz revival, with a fine solo to end Terry Cox's "Moondog." Her own "Pancake" is hilarious—a paean to Nah's favorite fast foods, referencing ice cream, French fries, milkshakes and donuts, all of which she seems determined to consume in ten minutes. It also features some funky playing from Danielsson and Desandre-Navarre.

It is a pleasure to hear a young jazz singer take chances; risking exposure with sparse, skeletal, accompaniments. It's also a joy to hear genuine humor and fun in the music. Nah still has things to learn, but she is a major talent and Same Girl reinforces her reputation.

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'Hélène.

Personnel: Youn Sun Nah: vocals, kalimba, music box, kazoo; Ulf Wakenius: guitars; Lars Danielsson: acoustic bass, cello; Xavier Desandre-Navarre: percussion: Roland Brival: narration (11).

Title: Same Girl | Year Released: 2010 | Record Label: ACT Music

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