Shin Joong Hyun, Beautiful Rivers and Mountains: The Psychedelic Rock Sound of South Korea’s Shin Joong Hyun

Richard Gehr

By Richard Gehr

on 09.27.11 in Reviews

Symptoms of struggle permeate the weeping wah-wah guitar of South Korea’s rock ‘n’ roll godfather on this delirious and often downbeat compilation focusing on Shin Joong Hyun’s early-’70s output. Born in 1938, Shin is something of an Asian Neil Young combined with Phil Spector. A tireless performer-producer who came of age before Chuck Berry invented rock ‘n’ roll, Shin continued to develop and evolve his sound even as South Korea’s dictatorship tried to quash a syncretic charisma that embraced the Supremes, Jefferson Airplane, disco, Korean gayo (pop-rock) and much more.

An Asian Neil Young combined with Phil Spector

Like Okinawa’s Shoukichi Kina, Shin practiced his chops and acquired his taste for classic acid rock — and classic acid — in and around American military bases. “Moon Watching” captures Shin’s tentative instrumental lounge-rock sound in 1958. Shin subsequently formed South Korea’s first real rock group, ADD4; recorded thoroughly credible Asiatic soul-pop such as “I Don’t Like” with his group Donkeys; and added acid-rock guitar solos to Korean folk motifs with his Golden Grapes on tracks like “Please Don’t Bother Me Anymore.” Shin also discovered and nurtured wonderful male and female singers such as the melodramatic Kim Sun (dig Shin’s ghost-rattle soloing on “The Man Who Must Leave”), Kim Jung Mi (quietly majestic on “The Sun”), Jang Hyun (something of a Korean Glen Campbell on “Please Wait”), and the irrepressible twin Bunny Girls (“Why That Person”).

Having once covered Iron Butterfly’s “In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida,” drum solo and all, it’s no surprise to find Shin stretching his weird yet always slightly tentative chops on the 15-minute “‘J’ Blues 72,” which bears a strong whiff of Country Joe and the Fish. And always an uncompromising cultural subversive, Shin recorded this eclectic and poignant comp’s trippy closing title track as an Aquarian, contrarian response to government pressure to record propaganda songs. “Beautiful River and Mountains” arrived after some serious soul searching. In response, the dictatorship banned Shin’s music and subsequently busted, tortured, and incarcerated him in 1975. Shin nevertheless emerged, battered yet unbowed, to continue a roller-coaster career ripe for further exploration.