Rustic Living for Urbanites
East meets West and North meets South in the music of Pete Teo. A native of Malaysia, Teo combines a very Western soft, acoustic pop and rock sound with exotic Asian accents played on traditional instruments. His songs bring to mind everyone from Ireland’s Van Morrison to Australia’s Paul Kelly.
Rustic Living for Urbanites kicks off with a sweet, effortlessly catchy pop tune called “Arms of Marianne” (Marianne is the muse that haunts at least three songs on the record). It’s tinged with harmonium, arpeggiated guitars and one of the record’s best hooks.
From there, things start to get really interesting. On several tracks, Teo incorporates instruments like the di-zi (a bamboo flute), sheng (mouth organ) and gambus (a 12-string, lute-like instrument) to bring texture to the songs. The best of them may be “Jesselton Tonight,” a tune about falling in love to Van Morrison songs that sounds like it could have been written by Paul Kelly. Van the Man appears to be the primary influence on “Marianne Called,” as well, particularly in its soulful, free-flowing vocal. Another Asian-accented tune, “Rhapsody in Blue” (which has nothing to do with Gershwin), is the tale of an intriguing encounter with a girl named Susie who “likes to watch.”
Occasionally, Teo’s brand of stream of conscious, earnest melancholy and sometimes clunky English wears out its welcome, as on “Blue.” His striving for intimacy in the nearly whispered vocal of “The Red House” can seem a tad contrived, as well. And despite evoking the mystique of New Orleans, “Where’ve the Years Gone” could use a stronger hook.
At its best though, Rustic Living for Urbanites is both alien and familiar. Teo brings a sense of mystery to his mostly universal themes. And that makes this boundary — and geography — defying album an intriguing listen.
Pete Teo: www.peteteo.com