Sunday, March 20, 2016

A Krom Review

Mekong Delta Blues

Cambodia’s Krom always promise an exciting outing to the often dark and dangerous avenues of our hearts and souls, mixing up blues, country and folk with traditional Khmer vocals and harmonies. Christopher Minko’s band Krom have signed with USA Musik and Film label and management team delivering this their new album Mekong Delta Blues.

Photo: Johnathan Van smit
Krom are musician Christopher Minko and the two sisters Sophea and Sopheak Chamroeun on vocals plus Jimmy Baeck on slide guitar and Mao Sokleap on bass and keys and production duties. While they shock with songs such as Lil Suzie and Taliban Man they delight with tracks like Cambodia.

Classically trained musician Christopher Minko pilots his guitar through familiar terrain in the instrumental opener Take 2. A carefully layered track, fret-board gymnastics echo through effects units, it builds up, and finds its rhythm before disappearing, traceless but not forgotten, into the night.

Mama Blue is a blues jam with a Minko lead vocal, a woman with killer eyes is looking at us. A nice touch is the keys and the urgency to which the voice grows in fear of this woman’s gaze; tension builds, falls, and finally, Minko’s over it.              

Mekong Delta Blues sees the sisters take the lead vocals as Minko plays a solid blues sequence. The Sisters Chamroeun, well known singers in Cambodia, graciously layer Khmer lyrics over a Western musical frame and this is where the band really hit, when the two cultures meet to create a unique hybrid, a musical genre that while slotting into the World Music genre is really Krom’s own bag.      

Perhaps the strongest track on the album is Lil Suzie a melodic meditation (“Good morning lil Suzie / Where did you go wrong?”) on disappointment and abandoned hope in a love hotel. Two versions of the track furnish the record. Christopher Minko takes lead vocal in one, Sophea on the other; both versions are haunting, disturbing, bleakly promising and solid examples of this thing they call Noir.

From the Heart is another Cambodia vocal lead, linguistic flurries rise and stab above and beyond a guitar phrase that could have been borrowed from Bert Jansch. Oftentimes it is too easy to compare Krom’s music with British folk but it is actually the source inspiration that is the same for the Australian Minko as it was for the British folk rock generation– American blues, arguably the source for most Western popular music today.        

New Record.
Big City / Sin City sees Minko and Co take a wander through the big bad city, which one, we can’t be sure, perhaps all cities are all the same. Cities of the East are where human beings are abandoned, tortured, bought and sold, physically and emotionally hurt and killed; Krom’s music details this, studies it, puts a microscope to it and holds it up for all to see, whether we like it or not.     

Cambodia, A love Song desperately wants to be a pop song, that piano lick, those harmonies, that chorus; this ridiculously addictive song should be adopted by the Cambodian tourist board and made their flagship tune. 
People should stand still in the street and sing it hand in hand. 
But people often do things they shouldn’t do.         

Prahok is a progressive instrumental, keys, bass, and guitar speaking as one during this restful pit stop before the disturbing Taliban Man. On first hearing the track the listener could be forgiven in finding the lyrics too heavy-handed but this is the way Minko captains his long-tail and those on board know the drill. Taliban Man assaults you, but, really, what did you expect?    
Photo: Anya Minko
Shadow Falls is as close to country as Krom tend to swim. The waters are murky, the course unclear, “Where the Shadow falls / between the day and night / the dark and light.” There is a struggle here, conflicts in emotion and ethics, a battle between right and wrong. Decisions blurred by desire. This is a strong track with too many layers to attempt to unravel with much success other than to observe that a wound is being cut open here for our entertainment. 

The record closes with an instrumental of the title track and we are all left wondering how Minko’s dark art has married with the perpetual brightness of the sisters; perhaps there is a fairy tale story here among the despair and the dust; maybe it is darkest before dawn.   

Krom’s journey is only just beginning. Christopher Minko has the band and he has the songs. Time will tell if the rest of the world catches on to the musical buzz that has been steadily building in South East Asia over the past few years: with a record like Mekong Delta Blues Krom has every chance of spreading their message far and wide beyond the Mekong.   

Mekong Delta Blues is released on MP3, CD and Vinyl by Musik and Film April 2nd 2016.

The album is for sale at Amazon as an MP3 HERE


The Beat Goes On 


MrMinko said...

Wow, this review is evocative for sure. The trailer is moving and educational to boot. Bring on the album release!

Spanking Pulp Manifesto. said...

Looking forward to it Mr Minko!

Gary Rutland said...

NIce one Mr.N, paints their contrasting appeal nicely.