Various Artists

Saigon Rock & Soul: Vietnamese Classic Tracks 1968-1974

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A whole sociological study could probably be based around Saigon Rock & Soul, a double-album compilation of killer Vietnamese pop/rock tracks from the late ‘60s to mid-‘70s, but that will be left to more academically minded types in order to focus on the music at hand. The tunes included here were surely the product of Western music's influence, as American soldiers brought the sounds of U.S. rock, pop, and soul along with them over the course of the Vietnam War. By the late ‘60s, a whole subgenre of than nac ("modern music") had emerged, as hordes of young Vietnamese musicians absorbed and emulated the music that arrived from overseas. Besides local clubs, many of the artists featured here performed -- and often recorded -- at U.S. army bases, where the soldiers made up a major portion of their fan base. Still, most of this collection's cuts never made it anywhere near an album until now, having initially been released only on 45s and the equivalent of street mixtapes. The ‘60s psychedelia explosion obviously had a major effect on the Vietnam scene. Phượng Hoàng and Minh Xuân's "Black Sun," for example, features some of the rawest, nastiest fuzz-guitar snarl you're likely to hear anywhere this side of a Blue Cheer box set, and the guitarist on Thanh Lan's "Autumn Memory" could give Big Brother & the Holding Company's James Gurley a run for his money, but for as many stoner-rock moments as there are on this compilation, there are just as many -- if not more -- pop and soul flavors to be found. Thai Thanh's "Dawn" is powered by a combination of R&B-influenced sax honking and Wes Montgomery-like octave voicings on guitar, while the sunny harmonies and folk-rock guitar strumming of Elvis Phu'o'ng's "Our Treasures" lend the tune an almost Lovin' Spoonful-esque feel, despite the chirpy, vibrato-laden organ. When the Viet Cong took over Saigon in 1975, they clamped down on all Western cultural influences, including music, and an era came to an end, but thankfully, Saigon Rock & Soul documents that nearly lost golden moment in musical history in all its pancultural glory.

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