Panel from Lars of Mars comic book issue #10, April 1951
Well, that title alone pretty much tells the story - this new release from Light in the Attic Records compiles some of the best work of Shin Joong Hyun, the diminutive guitarist that shaped much of modern Korean pop music. The collection covers some of his most interesting compositions and performances from his first album of guitar instrumentals ("Moon Watching" from 1958's Hiky Shin) through the song that effectively ended his musical career, "Beautiful Rivers and Mountains", an anti-political anthem that got him blackballed by the Korean government's Entertainment Mediator Adjuster. The songs highlight Shin's impressive guitar-playing and songwriting chops, and his life story, as told in the expansive CD booklet, is a sad and interesting one that adds another dimension to the music.
There are half a dozen pop songs on Beautiful Rivers and Mountains that are the most immediately appealing. Shin has said that his style is all based on soul music with other influences mixed in, and this is particularly evident on "I Don't Like (Shi-Reo)", sung by Lee Jung Hwa. The three songs sung by Jang Hyun are also quite good, although Jang's traditional singing style makes him sound a bit like a lounge singer.
Because Shin shaped the Korean pop music through his producing, managing, and composing for other artists as well, singers like Kim Jung Mi and the Bunny Girls get turns in the spotlight, and Shin's own performances shine through best in the collection's longer tracks, where his Hendrix-style solos really shine. The best of these is the plaintive title track, where you can hear him speaking to the nature of the Korean people even if you can't understand the lyric - the low point is the inventive but overly long acid-rock workout "'J' Blues 72", which has some great musicianship in it, but not enough to justify being fifteen minutes long. I'm glad that this overview highlights some of Shin's collaborative works because I'm excited to explore some of his own work with his bands, like the Yupjuns (none of their studio recordings are found here).
"Pushing Through the Fog (An-Gae-Rul Hae-Chee-Go)" by Jang Hyun