1. Spring Rain
2. That Long Ago You
3. The Big-Eyed Bride
4. What to Do
5. Here Comes Mong Shing
6. Wanting to Ask
7. Reeling Careening
8. Sunrise Tribe
9. That Granny
10. Nothing Else I Can Do
11. Blue Truck
12. Come Home for New Year
13. Wind Calm Waves Smooth
15. See the Milky Way
A-Tao (pronounced “ah-Tao) plays his acoustic guitar, uttering tales while reflecting on what the world is to him. It’s all in his native tongue of Hakkanese, a South-Eastern Chinese dialect of the Fujian province spoken also by the majority of the Taiwanese culture.
The JVC compilation is accompanied by one of the most elaborate booklets I’ve seen, chronicling A-Tao’s experiences that led to his singing career that premiered in 1996. Born in 1956, A-Tao sings with a country-song influence immersed in a fluidity and spontaneity to be found only among the best metropolitan Taiwanese pop idols.
He was a sculptor until he picked up a guitar and sang to his sickness-stricken, bed-ridden grandfather about life in the old countryside. That was 1996. Then, between the years of 1996 and 2004, A-Tao would travel to villages and countryside in faraway islands and sing for the local folks, sometimes in temples, other times in the middle of a town square. He became a welcome figure because of his songs, and he had come to be known as “brother A-Tao” among the local folks.
A solitary voice and a lone guitar will only work so far and so long; but listen to A-Tao, and you’ll wonder if this man’s energy and inspiration can be contained and surmised in a single CD release. Song after song, the world he presents is one of diversity, with subjects ranging from the Spring Rain to Coming Home for New Year, from wondering What To Do, to Nothing Else I can Do, while also pondering upon that Long Ago You, and That Granny. The only anchoring, constant elements in this burst of energy are his voice and his guitar.
English translation on the lyrics are poetic and elaborate. As A-Tao takes us into his inner world, it is quite amazing that in whatever manner you choose to play the songs, whether from the beginning to end, or from the bottom back up through the list, or even shuffling the tracks, A-Tao’s voice and guitar always sound anew. They say some genius never managed to manifest their inner lights to the world; well, in savoring his sanity and country life, this CD is a considerable accomplishment for posterity.
Once in a while, more commercialized arrangements, such as That Long Ago You, would grace the listener with a familiar touch by the graceful strings accompaniment. Sprinkling humor in his narration of folklores, A-Tao’s world is one of peace, and certain musing of life’s unpredictable dramas.
This guy had fun making this recording. From the instrumentations to lyrics, A-Tao gives the listener the impression that he never had to push hard to put the right touch into his songs. Yet, so inspired and expressive are his songs, one wishes the whole world would get to hear it.
The clarity and dynamics of the XRCD2 is extraordinary and startling, and all the more spectacular with the preservation of the guitar’s body and textures. Mr. Kiuchi, who remastered the recording into XRCD2 using his Combak cables, electronics and tuning products, spoke proudly of this CD during CES 2005, even though A-Tao speaks of a language foreign to him. Well, I have quite a few Japanese CDs that I couldn’t understand, too. Music transcends language barrier.
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