Various Artists

Shadow Music of Thailand

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Rock & roll spread through the world like a glorious epidemic in the 1950s and '60s, and there was hardly a nation on Earth where the impact of the music wasn't felt, but it hardly sounded the same wherever it landed; like many invasive species, rock & roll made its way into the local ecosystem, crossbred with the culture, and took new shapes in each land. Anyone curious about the results of this process need look no further than Shadow Music of Thailand, a fascinating compilation of material recorded in Bangkok during the mid-'60s under the aegis of bandleader Payong Mukda. The local genre of "shadow music" consisted of familiar tunes from Thai folk songs performed by rock & roll combos, with the angular melody lines interpreted on electric guitars and Farfisa organs while bass and drums often percolated with an R&B-influenced rhythm underneath. To Western ears, the results seem at once foreign and familiar; this is unmistakably music from Thailand, following a melodic path that's very different from pop music in English-speaking nations, but the firm, steady pulse of the rhythm section and the guitar work suggesting the influence of the Ventures and the Shadows make it clear that rock & roll is part of this formula, even if you usually can't always dance to it. (There are also brief moments where the musicians add "Oriental" melodic flourishes, so an American corruption of Asian music stands side by side with a stylized but ultimately authentic interpretation of Thai music, demonstrating once again how popular culture makes strange bedfellows.) There's a languid power to this music that sometimes runs counter to the firm push of the rhythms, but the yin and yang of these two sides only adds to the beauty of the whole, and Shadow Music of Thailand is a curious but richly satisfying document of how rock & roll helped shape music outside the First World -- and vice versa.

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