Thao Nguyen makes captivating music: Her songs are raw and infectious, her voice has a distinctive swagger, and she's a remarkably nimble guitarist. Nguyen's songs come from real and jarringly honest places.
Last summer, a friend invited me to see the singer and her backing band The Get Down Stay Down open for another great up-and-comer in the D.C. area, Le Loup. It's easy to dismiss local opening bands, especially if you've never heard of them. But after seeing Thao Nguyen that night, she's quickly become one of my favorite new artists.
Nguyen and her band play it loose and frantic at times, which can lead to imperfections. But it's those moments — those throaty, sometimes off-kilter melodic phrases — that make her music so endearing. It makes her performances so much more dynamic, with a vibrancy well beyond the basic notes.
While songs like "Beat (Health, Life and Fire)" may play on themes of coming of age, angst and a failure to commit, the singer's music inhabits a joyous, lilting world — somewhere between indie-folk and bluesy, country twang.
Since that first show I attended last year, Nguyen has released the critically well-received We Brave Bee Stings and All, an album I keep coming back to, and one that will surely rank among my picks for the best records of 2008.
During her rare break between opening for Rilo Kiley and a recently completed headlining tour this summer, we invited Thao Nguyen to play a Tiny Desk Concert for us at NPR. It was clear that, even in the intimate company of about 25 people, Nguyen's songs are energetic and engaging. She transformed a typical muggy Monday morning into a memorable day at the office.
- "Bag of Hammers"
- "Beat (Health, Life and Fire)"
- "Big Kid Table"
- "Feet Asleep"
Cameras and production by Bob Boilen and Frannie Kelley