Various Artists

The Rough Guide to the Music of Vietnam

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Vietnam might seem a mysterious Asian country to some Westerners, but this album goes a long way to unlocking its secrets by presenting music that's representative of all facets of the country, but which is remarkably accessible. Surprises arrive from the very first, as Huong Thanh's "Crossing the Valley" almost sounds like an outtake from a Kate Bush album. What you quickly realize is that there's no single music emblematic of Vietnam. It's as much the central region's folk music represented by Vân Khánh as it is the weirdly twisted Asian blues of Blue Asia or the slightly saccharine pop of Quang Linh. The more traditional pieces have a shimmering delicacy, and many feature the dan bao, an instrument unique to Vietnam, with its single string but widely expressive sound. It's here in many contexts, but none more bizarre than a live cover of "(Ghost) Riders in the Sky," where it sounds like an unearthly surf guitar. Yet the dan bao is only one in a feast of instruments, also including the dan tranh zither and dan nguyet. But voices prevail on this excellently compiled collection, and there are plenty of great ones, like Than Quy and Cam Ly, the latter of whom might be pop, but has great pipes. Listen to this album -- it will open your eyes and ears.

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