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Non-Prog CD Reviews

Pete Teo

Rustic Living for Urbanites

Review by Bruce Stringer

This review was probably one of the hardest that I have ever had to write about. Pete is Malaysia's answer to Leonard Cohen or Suzanne Vega. He has a deep lyrical quality and writes in a conversational manner that is both surreal, yet ground in harsh realities. The CDs stunning artwork is a mixture of Pink Floydian textures and the cinematic portraits of Wong Kar Wai's superb In the Mood For Love (check out the shadow!). Rustic Living… is a truly international effort and is a stunning collision of East and West: where else would you find a Chinese 2-string violin (an erhu) on the same recording as a Rhodes electric piano and a harmonium?

Warner music have reported surprisingly positive movement of Pete Teo's classy packaged album in both Asia and the western world. Pete could prove to be the Chinese world's most important crossover artist alongside the likes of Faye Wong, and to a lesser extent Coco Lee and the Taiwanese-Australian songstress (and my favourite), Faith Yang Nai Wen. He paints his stories with the brushstrokes of a master, colours dynamic yet washed out revealing a melancholia. Ronan Chris Murphy's production has once again prevailed on this dark, poetic song tapestry allowing space for the colours to blend into a grand nostalgic painting. My difficulty in writing this review could be summed up in this simple question: how can one judge, or explain the deepest in soul-searching of another?

Stylistically, this is not my favourite style of music but the song writing and production are definitely the key elements of this album to listen to. If the rest of the Chinese-speaking world can come up with more crossover artists like this I think western acts may find them hard to contend with. This deep, poetic and definitely a quality product.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2003 Year Book Volume 2 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Arms of Marianne
Marianne is a central figure throughout a trilogy of songs on a stage where the rain falls and Pete reflects on a time of longing and loss in this upbeat piece. That it seems he'd wish for an ultimately different ending to this sad tale of lost love is heartfelt and emotional yet we are delivered a light pop smothering that takes you on a journey through the happiness and is an introduction to the spirit of Marianne.
Budapest
Inspired by Krudy, this is a walk along the path from Marianne's world into Budapest. To me, this is a Dylan-esque spoken-yet-sung mixture of pop and brush snare. An interesting story and quite un-Chinese in its delivery. Pete uses the English language without accent and delivers depth and thoughtful imagery.
Jesselton Tonight
The only American sounding clean guitar tune with Chinese Er-Hu (violin) that I can think of. A smooth mixture of cultures and radio-friendly western pop sympathies. Beautiful vocal work carries this song in its simplicity and is up-tempo and friendly to any dinner party atmosphere.
Alive N' Free
Pete subtly uses the Er-Hu and Chinese flute to enrich the moody quality of this, which could have been performed by Suzanne Vega on her darker days. Lyrically challenging, yet vocally pure, this clocks in at around 6:30.
Rhapsody in Blue
As a kind of funky, eastern-western hybrid this bird is very interesting and has a dark Cohen vocal croon. Interesting for its sheer mixture of the strange and the, er… strange.
Marianne Called
 The second in a trilogy, this piece revolves around a telephone conversation with our central character lamenting life. "Sometimes I wish I could've caught the train" - to a path that possibly should've been taken. The Chinese violin sings sweetly and this smooth, late night piece spins a beauty in this acoustic tale.

Blue
With a more upbeat rhythm, Pete once again narrates his stories from a long lost diary. This song is indicative of the sound of this album, that at time could be mistaken for a new Cat Stevens album. This is just like walking in the fields on a summer day or sitting on the Yangste.
Where've the Years Gone?
If this album didn't have the Chinese instruments it could be considered closer to a Waterboys folk-inspired album. This 12/8 piece is yet again a beautiful layering of smooth sounds and the lyrical wizardry of Mr Teo. It is based on familiar themes and memories.
The Red House
 The Red House is nicely placed and a wonderfully pure arrangement that hits 7 minute mark before dissolving.
Hush Marianne
In the December rain it seems that Marianne dies. Pete's sadness spills over, knowing he only has his memories to rely on. The heaviest track on the CD and sounding like it is based on a traditional Chinese melody with a hint of Fish vocals (- as in Marillion), this is poetic and a great finale to the CD and the Marianne trilogy. Another elongated piece, this fades out and we have a surprise so unlike the rest of the song.
 
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