Review by George Agnos, DailyVault.com
Sometimes I feel we need more folk-singers in this world as much as we need more lawyers, but every so often someone comes along that is so good, it makes me eat those words. Well, I am definitely chewing carefully as I listen to this release by Boston singer-songwriter Kevin So. That Oriental Guy is a literal tour-de-force displaying So's talents for writing everything from humorous ditties to heartbreaking tales to protest songs, and managing to get to the heart of each type of song with equal ease.
That Oriental Guy also is a showcase for So's diverse musical template. While folk is the main focus, he displays a knack for writing pop and r&b songs as well. The opening songs certainly show his diverse influences. The CD kicks off strongly with "Different", a heartfelt ballad about where his life is and wondering where life will take him. This is followed by the tongue and cheek, Dylanesque "Standing In The Shadows Of Ellis Paul", a sort of in-joke tribute to the success of a fellow singer-songwriter, then there's the pre-rock era pop of "Walking Down The Avenue."
While this eclectic start is fun, the best of That Oriental Guy is yet to come. He collaborates to great success with fellow folk-artist Carl Cacho on the bittersweet "Cool Drink Of H2O" which deftly describes the joy and apprehensions of a relationship. On the other end, you have the audaciousness of life as a "Porn Star" complete with female moaning in the background.
That Oriental Guy certainly gives the listener quite a ride. The eclecticism occasionally makes the CD seem somewhat disjointed, but the payoffs on many of the songs are big, and So's overall talent (he also plays most of the instruments throughout the CD) more than make up for any awkward sequencing. Here's hoping that So becomes at least as popular as Ellis Paul.
About Kevin So...
In over a decade of performing his music around the country, Kevin So has earned the respect of fellow musicians (Keb' Mo', Amos Lee), won over members of press and radio, and has built a loyal fan base across the US. Born and raised in Boston, So channeled his early passion for singing into the start of a career in music with his appearance on the nationally broadcast Fox TV show "Big Break" hosted by Natalie Cole. In 1994, So toured the country in a cover band that would later see some of its musicians moving on to Britney Spears' band. It was during that period when he spent a considerable amount of time listening to the early recordings of Bob Dylan. By 1995, So quit the cover band and was a regular on the open-mic folk scene in Cambridge. His strong musicianship caught the attention of a Boston Globe critic who wrote that Kevin was "unusually talented." At the prestigious Kerrville Folk Festival in Texas, an Austin Chronicle's music writer took notice, writing that So was "the big discovery." The release of So's Individual in 1997, was accompanied by a sold-out performance at Club Passim. So moved to Chicago in 1999, booked his own gigs, performing shows in the Midwest and elsewhere. Busking in Austin the following year, Kevin was "discovered" by The Agency Group. Subsequently, he opened for Joe Cocker, Billy Bragg, and Robben Ford. In 2001, So moved back to Boston. Soon thereafter, he released the controversial That Oriental Guy in the midst of a hectic tour schedule. Musically, he was shifting from folk to pop/r&b. The day after September 11, 2001, Kevin connected with popular bluesman Keb' Mo' and co-wrote "Talk," which Keb' would eventually record. So continued touring in 2002, becoming a favorite performer for dozens of Asian American organizations around the US. The double-disc Leaving The Lights On appeared to an avalanche of praise in 2003. With 2 other full length CDs under his belt (The So Must Go On and A Brighter Day), So continues to tour the country at a vigorous clip. More recently, Kevin was proud recipient of the 2007 NYC Fringe Festival Award (Best Music & Lyrics) for his current work-in-progress "The Great Wall” – a musical production based on his life and times. So's latest release Best Foot Forward is supported by concert dates in 2009.