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CD review: Nah Youn Sun – Same Girl

Nah Youn-sun: Same GirlNah Youn Sun: Same Girl
ACT, September 2010

Nah Youn Sun returns with her second Western album. Her first, Voyage, was LKL’s editor’s choice for album of the year 2008 and so this follow-up release comes hotly anticipated. It does not disappoint.

The opening track of the album, My Favourite Things, is often one of the encores in her live sets: an intimate pianissimo version performed live, there is more body to the recorded version – the kalimba sounding more robust, the voice deeper and more present in the room with you. Inevitably, this being a recorded version there can be no tailoring to local circumstances. In live performances in the UK, some of her favourite things include fish & chips, and kimchi. This version is straighter, but none the worse for that.

We pick up the pace in the second track with My Name is Carnival by Jackson C Frank – “the most famous folksinger of the 1960s that no one has ever heard of.” Part folk, part country, it’s a song which is unmistakeably American in flavour but nevertheless Nah seems to be master of the genre. Her voice is gutsy, with some surprising bottom notes for those who are used to her high-pitched scatting.

The virtuoso scatting, though, is not missing from this album. The third track, Breakfast in Baghdad by Ulf Wakenius, brings in the full band for the first time and enables Nah so display some vocal fireworks. Reminiscent of Frevo from Voyage features unison voice and guitar in melody and rhythm with a Spanish and Moroccan flavour.

Uncertain Weather is Nah’s own composition, a relaxed and simple melody. Sergio Mendes contributes Song of No Regrets, a complex but beautiful melody accompanied in this arrangement solely by plucked double bass and bowed cello – a minimalist effect like Favourite Things, but amazingly effective.

The standout track? The Kangwondo Arirang, accompanied only by Ulf Wakenius’s delicate and haunting guitar-playing, including some harmonies which constantly surprise: it’s a version which brings a lump to the throat and a tear to the eye. Nah tastefully multi-tracks herself at certain points to add to the vocal texture.

Nah Youn-sun

In Voyage, Nah surprised us with a Tom Waits cover (A Jockeyful of Bourbon). This time the surprise track is Enter Sandman by Metallica, alternately sinister and raucous as Nah imitates heavy metal guitar sounds with the amazing instrument that is her voice.

The title track, Same Girl, brings a return of the sound of Favourite Things: solo voice accompanied only by the delicate chimes of the music box. A laid-back blues number (Terry Cox’s Moondog) is followed by one of Nah’s compositions, Pancake. It’s not one you’ll hum along to, as it’s designed to show off her vocal control and agility.

The final track is in a genre which Nah has been wanting to explore for a while: French chanson. This is a version of La Chanson d’Hélène by Philippe Sarde and Jean-Loup Dabadie, written for the 1970 film Les Choses de la Vie. Nah’s version lacks some of the forward momentum of the original but but suits her more pensive style.

Ulf Wakenius on guitar is outstanding throughout. Nah is still the same girl that made Voyage, but there’s more than enough that’s different in this album to justify an enthusiastic purchase. The album is released in the UK on Monday 27 September 2010.


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