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Beautiful Rivers and Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound of South Korea's Shin Joong Hyun 1958-1974

Shin Joong Hyun

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Album Review

Guitarist, producer, and songwriter Shin Joong Hyun's music was seldom heard outside his native South Korea. Save for the recordings purchased by returning American GIs or in the collections of migrating South Koreans, it seldom entered the West and was only discovered by rabid vinyl collectors in the 21st century. His story is a long, often tragic one, though it's full of redemption and is ongoing: Shin resumed making music at the turn of the century. Also, he recently received one of popular music's greatest honors: Fender created his own Custom Shop Tribute Series guitar. Shin is only the sixth player ever to receive such an honor. The others' last names are Clapton, Beck, Hendrix, Van Halen, and Vaughan. The intrepid Light in the Attic imprint decided to tell Shin's story through Beautiful Rivers and Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound of South Korea's Shin Joong Hyun 1958-1974, his first ever anthology. In addition to collecting 14 tracks, it also offers a lengthy biographical essay — with interview — by Kevin Howes. Musically, Shin was deeply influenced by American and British rock and pop styles of all stripes, but also by his own country's folk and pop traditions. Incidentally, they came together inseparably in his music. While "Moon Watching" from Shin's debut solo album, Hiky Shin, owes greatly to Johnny & the Hurricanes-styled instrumental rock and surf music, the very next cut, "Please Don't Bother Me Anymore," from Shin Joong Hyun & the Golden Grapes' self-titled album of 1972, is pure choogling psych-pop informed equally by Hendrix's wah-wah soloing, the Jefferson Airplane, and the Mamas & the Papas! "I Don't Like," cut in 1970 by female vocalist Lee Jung Hwa backed by Shin & the Donkeys, was a pure Motown rip. "Spring Rain," cut the same year by male singer Park In Soo, is a take on deep psychedelic soul backed by Shin and his band the Questions. "'J' Blues 72" is Shin & the Golden Grapes playing an instrumental influenced by Hendrix and B.B. King, but showcases his own mighty and unusual playing style the best. The ten-plus-minute title track that closes the set is a labyrinthine folk-psych, acid-drenched masterpiece by Shin & the Men from 1972. It's an epic worthy of Morricone's spaghetti Western scores — had Morricone been born a guitarist. Ultimately, Beautiful Rivers and Mountains is more than a mere curiosity piece; for all its easy-to-recognize styles, Shin's way of enmeshing them into something original underscores rather than erases their strangeness and splendor — even to widely exposed Western ears — making this is an excellent introduction to his work.

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