Sebastian Spiller（fR262 April 2005）
SHENG XIANG AND WATER 3
Getting Dark Trees music & Art TMCD-330
I'd been such a fan of Taiwan's former Labour Exchange Band (see fR229) that I had initially approached the first solo album by the group's leader, Sheng Xiang, with some trepidation. I'd heard a couple of stripped-down live versions of new songs on a trip to Taiwan a couple of years ago, noticeably without the extra instrumentation that had helped make his excellent material that crucially bit more special. I needn't have worried. Several years in the making, under the guidance of co-producers, Trees Music's Chung Shefong and lyricist Yongfeng, Sheng Xiang and Water 3 is, if anything, a step up on the LEB, Sheng's melodies are as strong and memorable as ever, and Yongfeng's lyrics as pertinent. He clearly believes, passionately, in whatever it is he is singing about, in his pretty much western singer-songwriter style.
Fortunately the exemplary liner notes and packaging come with full translations, and as I had hoped, expected, these are not songs of banal cliches or introverted observations, but of real issues affecting real people. Getting Dark is set around a character reflecting on the boom period of the 1980s, when many peasants and country people arrived in the cities seeking their slice of the economic miracle. As boom started to turn to bust, and the factories closed down (and opened on mainland China where the cheaper labour was), many lost their jobs. Ashamed to return home without fulfilling their earlier promise of new found wealth, these people are to be found roaming the stress on the outskirts of the cities.
Sheng Xiang's acoustic guitar is augmented by Chinese moon guitar, plus the pipa (ancient Chinese lute), the sanxian (Chinese here-stringed lute), and even its Okinawan offspring, the sanchin, performed by Takashi Hirayasu on the Album's final track. Harmonica and fretless bass add the western elements on an album that skillfully blends Chinese, Taiwanese and western elements into a sound that has become a distinctive hallmark of Sheng Xiang.
More info: www.treesmusic.com; available from www.farsidemusic.com
fR262 April 2005