The redoubtable archivist label Soundway Records’ first foray into Asian music reaps sensational rewards on The Sound of Siam: Leftfield Luk Thung, Jazz and Molam. Featuring nineteen tracks (twenty on the vinyl edition) by sixteen acts recorded between 1965 and 1975, this beautifully researched collection is a window into a musical world largely unknown in the West, and another welcome addition to Soundway’s body of essential global music.
There’s remarkable variety here, between the sophisticated, urban Luk Krung, the more rural-oriented mixed bag Luk Thung, the north-eastern strain known as Molam (huge in neighboring Laos) and hybrids of Latin, jazz, psych and traditional Thai music that defy easy classification. One of the most striking aspects of these tracks is how rich the recording quality (and Soundway’s re-mastering) is, and how sophisticated the arrangements, compositions and over-all musicianship is. This is especially true on the Molam tracks, where the arrangements merge deliciously expressive vocals, heavily effected electric guitars and the traditional instruments the phin, the kahen and especially the sor, a bowed violin that gives Molam is distinctive droning quality. The three tracks by Molam star Chaweewan Dumnern seem to leap out of the speakers with an intimate immediacy, and sound, in a sonic sense, about as good as anything you’re likely to hear anytime soon – all with old-school analog recording technology, of course.
The same can be said for other Molam tracks by The Petch Phin Tong Band (“Soul Lam Plearn”) and Sodsri Rungsang (“Uay Porn Tahan Chaydan”), SE Asian pop drones that the John Cale-era Velvet Underground would be simpatico with. Conversely, an acoustic track like “Diew Sor Diew Caan” by Thong Huad & Kunp’an has a distinctly rural, small-town, old-world feel to it. Panon Nopporn’s “Sao Ban Pok Pab” has an unmistakably Middle Eastern/Persian melody line, while Saknatee Srichiangmai’s “Nom Samai Mai” is pure 60s psych, Thai style, with wah-wahed guitars to equal anything in the West. “Mae Kha Som Tam” by Onuma Singsiri has a soundtrack feeling, while “Fai Yen” by Ream Daranoi has a mysterious, dreamy, liquid cadence unlike anything at all in the West. Plearn Promdan’s “Wan Maha Sanook” features a baritone sax line that is freakishly close to the signature sax sound of Morphine. “Ding Ding Dong” by Waipod Phetsuphan” has a Thai marching band cadence, while the pleasingly weird, off-kilter “Pleng Yuk Owakard” by the Viking Combo Band is a space jazz number that Sun Ra would be proud to own.
The Sound of Siam comes with a substantial, full color booklet full of remarkable photos and well researched text that puts all of the acts and numbers in context and perspective. Archival re-issues don’t get much more well turned-out than this, and Soundway can add another feather to it’s already well-plumed hat.
Standout Tracks: “Soul Lam Plearn,” “Lam Toey Chaweewan,” “Pleng Yuk Owakard,” “Sao Ban Pok Pab,” “Sao Lam Plearn” and fourteen others. CARL HANNI