It was a chance discovery.
I clicked the link by accident as I scrolled down the “Music” page on Amazon.com. When the new page loaded, I proceeded to read the band’s name out loud.
“Thao & The Get Down Stay Down? What a crazy name,” I thought,not realizing at first that “Thao” was the first name of singer-songwriter Thao Nguyen, a woman I’d heard on NPR’s famous music show “All Music Considered” back in 2009.
So I clicked the “Preview All” button and got a snippet of each delightful, eclectic, poppy song from the band’s third studio album “We the Common.” In the end, I was sold. What made Nguyen stand out to me in ‘09 was the fact that she began her NPR acoustic set beat boxing. I mean, it’s not an amazing feat, but I was surprised to hear a folk singer drop some rhythms before the guitar came in. The hip-hop intro led into a fun track called “Bag of Hammers,” in which Nguyen sang about not giving up on a relationship.
“The trick is/ that you do not get on that interstate bus/ the catch is/ you stay and see what becomes of us,” she sings.
She has a whiney voice that creeps quietly at first, but explodes during the chorus, and straines slightly during the higher notes. This might sound like it would be irritating to listen to, but Nguyen’s unique voice fits her charming story and made everything feel down-to-earth, real and imperfect.
While it was only a small taste of her talent, the 20-minute performance allowed me to understand that Nguyen took her craft seriously.
The track “City,” off the new album, is the clearest change-up from Nguyen’s previous style of organic acoustic sets. The song gives listeners hard, electric rhythms, filled with distortion, bass and drops of glistening xylophone tones. This leads into the next track “We Don’t Call,” where Nguyen and The Get Down Stay Down switch it up, leaving out the robust guitar and adding soft coos and an upbeat horn section to the lighthearted love story instead.
“We don’t call, we don’t write/ we love some strangers every night, oh, oh, oh,” she sings.
On “Kindness Be Conceived,” Nguyen reaches back to her acoustic roots as she sings a duet with harpist and pianist Joanna Newsom. The quirky, foot tapping folk track combines Newsom’s small, birdlike voice with Nguyen’s creating something sunny and earnest.
“If by a third degree/ you feel a guilt for me/ then I’ve been the villain all my life/ And if by a melody you stay and swear with me/ I’ve been the salesman on the side,” she sings.
Nguyen doesn’t slack when collaborating with The Get Down Stay Down. The crew from Virginia creates a flavorful, musical gumbo with every track on “We the Common.” Before my happy Amazon accident, I didn’t even know Nguyen was in a band. I mistakenly assumed she was strictly a solo artist, unaware that her style backed by horns, bass, keyboard and drums would sound so joyous. Nguyen and company have everything from sing-a-long dance inducing tracks like “Holy Roller” and “Every Body,” to all-out New Orleans
jazz ones like “The Feeling Kind” and “Move.”
Thao & The Get Down Stay Down make easily digestible, good-time music that has the power to put a smile on your face and get
you moving. You couldn’t ask for anything better to clear away those winter blues.