That Oriental Guy

Kevin So

WingBone Records, 2000

REVIEW BY: George Agnos

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 12/27/2001

Sometimes I feel we need more folk-singers in this world as much as we need more lawyers, but every so often someone comes along that is so good, it makes me eat those words. Well, I am definitely chewing carefully as I listen to the latest release by Boston singer-songwriter Kevin So. That Oriental Guy is a literal tour-de-force displaying So's talents for writing everything from humorous ditties to heartbreaking tales to protest songs, and managing to get to the heart of each type of song with equal ease.

That Oriental Guy also is a showcase for So's diverse musical template. While folk is the main focus, he displays a knack for writing pop and r&b songs as well. The opening four songs certainly show his diverse influences. The CD kicks off strongly with "Different", a heartfelt ballad about where his life is and wondering where life will take him. This is followed by the tongue and cheek, Dylanesque "Standing In The Shadows Of Ellis Paul", a sort of in-joke tribute to the success of a fellow singer-songwriter, then there's the hip-hop flavored "There's A War Goin' On" and the pre-rock era pop of "Walking Down The Avenue".nbtc__dv_250

While this eclectic start is fun, the best of That Oriental Guy is yet to come. He collaborates to great success with fellow folk-artist Carl Cacho on two songs: the bittersweet "Cool Drink Of H2O" which deftly describes the joy and apprehensions of a relationship, and the tasty folk-pop of "Stay With Me Tonight" which recalls James Taylor at each his most genial.

Since an Asian-American folk singer is, so far, a rarity (as he humorously acknowledges in some of the songs), part of That Oriental Guy's strength is giving the listener that perspective, and so we get "Walter Lee" which is about the injustices dealt to Asians in America, and "Dragon Lady" which traces the history of a woman from her Chinese beginnings to adventures in America.

However, he does not need to write about Asian life to be effective. Other highlights include the short spoken-word song about life in the mean streets, "Dear John", segueing into the piano ballad "Times Of Confusion" which seems to lament the actions of the previous song. This creative segue, along with the socially conscious message, recalls Stevie Wonder at the top of his game.

Talk about contrasts: on one end, you have the horrifying "Ballad Of Amy Xu" which chronicles the accidental death of a little girl, with point of views from her father, her killer, and a witness. On the other end, you have the audaciousness of life as a "Porn Star" complete with female moaning in the background.

That Oriental Guy certainly gives the listener quite a ride. The eclecticism occasionally makes the CD seem somewhat disjointed, but the payoffs on many of the songs are big, and So's overall talent (he also plays most of the instruments throughout the CD) more than make up for any awkward sequencing. Here's hoping that So becomes at least as popular as Ellis Paul.

Rating: A-

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© 2001 George Agnos and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of WingBone Records, and is used for informational purposes only.