Various - The Sound of Siam : Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz and Molam in Thailand (2xLP Soundway)
With the advent of the internet it became possible to not only hear the records that you once only read about but to hear 1000s of other records you never even knew existed. Whether it was the lone record by someone in a bedroom in Italy or a field recording by a curious person in Japan, all it takes is a click of a button and you're there. What's interesting though is the mingling of genres to the point that genres are now irrelevant, as it should be. Walk into a record shop and the records are divided. On the internet a Japanese Noise recording plays straight after a 78 of a classical soprano singer from the 1920s. Suddenly allegiances to particular scenes become laughable. All things are embraced. With a little bit of reading a sense of the context for each recording enriches the listening experience.
In more recent years this cultural shift has made it more viable for labels to put out more recordings from across the world. Yes there's always been places like Sterns in London or the Smithsonian Folkways organization (and many more notables) but newer labels run by enthusiasts and specialists have put out a heady stream of fine recordings on vinyl and cd. By going to countries like Pakistan, Syria or, in this case, Thailand, they've scoured the back alleys for original singles, picking out the finer items to compile into albums for those of us who don't travel much. (Spent the air ticket money on a record sale huh?)
On occasion there are labels that are no more than chancers recording things off the radio or recordings street musicians or reissuing bad quality records without paying them anything (a colonial mentality if ever there was one), but there are some fantastic labels out there like Honest Jons, and Soundways. Labels that act honourably and present great recordings in the best ways available. And here's an example.
The double album is the result of a hell of a lot of leg-work, rummaging through 100s of records in Thailand picking out only the best examples in the best condition. It spans the period of 1964 to 1975, taking in the effects of cultural changes on musicians in Thailand. There are some surprising oddities like the High Five Band's strongly Latin influenced 'Soi Saeng Daeng' or Ream Daranoi's beautifully romantic (what a voice!) Bollywood style 'Fai Yen.'
Inevitably there's an example of the Western pop influence, in this case Chaweewan Dumnern's 'Sao Lam Plearn' which shamelessly incorporates the 'Jumping Jack Flash' riff but to better effect than the Stones could ever have dreamt of. But by and large most of the tracks are great examples of Luk Krung and Luk Thung. Yeah I know, I had to look it up too.
Personal favourite? Yenjit Porntawi's 'Lam Plearn Toh Lom Nhao.' The good thing about this gatefold album is that there's very informative notes for each track. Inside the gatefold there are a few reproductions of the original records' labels and front covers. Damn, they're good.
All in all a flawlessly presented collection of gems. Not a disappointing track in sight. And just wait til you see the eye-popping cover art by Lewis Heriz. HM