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World Music CD Reviews Asia & Far East

DENGUE FEVER

By Paul-Emile Comeau
Published June 27, 2006

Escape From Dragon House
Birdman

Cambodian pop music of the ’60s is the type of thing that should have a cult following, but it’s too low under the radar even for that. Nonetheless, most aficionados of obscure music who stumble upon Cambodian pop from that era are quickly smitten. Dengue Fever, a group from California, draws much of its inspiration from these vintage sounds, but adds contemporary twists. While the first Dengue Fever album was a tribute to the songs of Ros Serey Sothea, plus two originals, Escape From Dragon House reverses the ratio by featuring mostly original songs. The use of a Farfisa organ imparts a retro psychedelic flavor to the group’s sound. Ch’hom Nimol’s irresistible vocals are often bright and effervescent, but there’s also a dark undercurrent to some tracks. Dengue Fever also takes Cambodian pop’s existing eclecticism a few steps further by incorporating sounds reminiscent of equally far-ranging Bollywood soundtracks, and ideas similar to those heard on the Ethiopiques series, or even American soul music. Despite its seemingly nostalgic worldview, this is music that’s both modern and engaging as its own thing.