According to Thao Nguyen, she has two talents: her first is she has a knack for beat-boxing and humming at the same time (Rahzel needn't worry about any competition just yet though) and her second, and in her opinion finest, is that she had a capacity to watch so much TV as a kid, she's convinced her personality is made up of several different sitcom characters. Of course Thao, the 23 year Virginia-bred songwriter, is forgetting her unique voice, natural sense for a good melody, and striking lyrics, skillful guitar plucking and her deadly dry sense of humour. Thao's debut for Kill Rock Stars, showcases all these talents and more, proving she's a star in the making.
With her perky strumming guitar, bluegrass tinged banjo, giddy sense of self and uninhibited vulnerability, Thao manages that rare combination of songs that sound happy but are, at times so sad. Whether using an acoustic guitar strummed with a toothbrush or a sharpie pen, or employing keyboards, horns and a full rhythm section with her band The Get Down Stay Down, her songs are always buoyant, littered with catchy riffs and lyrics gripped with intimate details juxtaposed with her cheeky humor. ''My songs reflect my personality as far as shirking the seriousness of things'' says Thao.
Thao's sly and mischievous sense of humour is all over this record, lightening the gravity of her words in the tradition of the very best songwriters, raising the mundane and ordinary to the extraordinary. Her music comes to life during her live performances, where Thao's clever, self-depricating and charming personality shines, surpassed only by her guitar picking skills.
The vinyl version contains two extra tracks: a cover of the Smoky Robinson classic ''You Really Got Hold On Me'' and and a Thao original ''Tallymarks''.
On Thao Nguyen's second album and first for Kill Rock Stars, the young singer's delightful voice draws you in. She sings in a wispy manner that recalls Sinead O'Connor at bedtime, employing the cottonmouth phrasing of Beth Orton, Chan Marshall (Cat Power), and Jolie Holland to great effect. This is downright happy music with brooding lyrics, an approach that's worked well for Belle and Sebastian and Cardinal. Nguyen and crew have it down pat. Bee Stings
has been expertly produced by Tucker Martine, a long-standing collaborator of Laura Veirs. Veirs actually introduced the two, as well as hooking Nguyen up with her label after getting an unsolicited recording in the mail. On Nguyen's MySpace page, she describes her music like this: "Tangles of guitar, knots of singing, threads of beat and thump make a rope fit for hauling the heavy machinery of your day." Who can argue with that? --Mike McGonigal