By Bruce Stringer, Music Street Journal

This review was one of the hardest I have ever had to write. Pete Teo is Malaysia’s answer to Leonard Cohen or Suzanne Vega. He has a deep lyrical quality and writes in a conversational manner that is both surreal, yet ground in harsh realities. The CDs stunning artwork is a mixture of Pink Floydian textures and the cinematic portraits of Wong Kar Wai’s superb ‘In the Mood For Love’ (check out the shadow!). ‘Rustic Living’ is a truly international effort and is a stunning collision of East and West – where else would you find a Chinese 2-string violin (the Erhu) on the same recording as a Rhodes electric piano, and a harmonium?

Warner Music [PETE’S NOTE: the reviewer got it wrong here. Pony Canyon released the album in Malaysia. Warner Chappell is my sub-publishers] have reported surprisingly positive movement of Pete Teo’s classily packaged album. Pete could prove to be the Chinese world’s most important crossover artist, alongside the likes of Faye Wong, and to a lesser extent Coco Lee and the Taiwanese-Australian songstress Faith Yang Nai Wen. He paints his stories with the brushstrokes of a master; his colours are dynamic yet washed out, revealing melancholia. Ronan Chris Murphy’s production has once again prevailed on this dark, poetic song tapestry, allowing space for colours to blend into a grand nostalgic painting.

My difficulty in writing this review could be summed up in this simple question: how could one judge, or explain the deepest in soul-searching of another?

Stylistically, this is not my favourite style of music but the song writing and production are definitely the key elements of this album to listen to. If the rest of the Chinese-speaking world can come up with more crossover artists like this, I think western acts may find them hard to contend with. This is a deep, poetic and definitely quality product.

Arms of Marianne: Marianne is a central figure in a trilogy of songs set on a stage where the rain falls. Pete’s wish for an ultimately different ending to a sad tale of lost love is heartfelt and emotional, yet we are delivered a light pop smothering here that takes you on a journey through happiness, and serves as an introduction to the spirit of Marianne.

Budapest: Inspired by Krudy, this is a walk along the path from Marianne’s world into Budapest. To me, this is a Dylan-esque, spoken-yet-sung mixture of pop and brush snare. An interesting story and quite un-Chinese in its delivery.

Jesselton Tonight: The only American sounding clean guitar tune with the Erhu that I can think of. A smooth mixture of cultures with radio-friendly western pop sympathies. Beautiful vocal work carries this simple, up-tempo song.

Alive N’ Free: Pete subtly uses the Erhu and the Chinese flute to enrich the moody quality of this track, which could have been performed by Suzanne Vega on her darker days. Lyrically challenging, yet vocally pure, this clocks in at around 6:30.

Rhapsody in Blue: As a kind of funky, eastern-western hybrid, this bird is very interesting and features a dark Cohen-like vocal croon. Interesting for its sheer mixture of the strange and the, er… strange.

Marianne Called: The second in the Marianne trilogy. This piece revolves around a telephone conversation with our central character lamenting life. “Sometimes I wish I could’ve caught the train” expresses a path that he possibly should’ve been taken. The Chinese violin sings sweetly in this smooth, late night acoustic tale.

Blue: With a more upbeat rhythm, Pete once again narrates his stories from a long lost diary. This song is indicative of the overall sound of this album, which at time could be mistaken for a new Cat Stevens album. This is just like walking in the fields on a summer day or sitting on the Yangtze.

Where’ve the Years Gone?: If this album didn’t have Chinese instruments, it could be considered a Waterboys folk-inspired album. This 12/8 piece is yet again a beautiful layering of smooth sounds and the lyrical wizardry of Mr Teo.

The Red House: The Red House is nicely paced and a wonderfully pure arrangement that hits 7 minute mark before dissolving.

Hush Marianne: In the December rain, it seems that Marianne dies. Pete’s sadness spills over, knowing he only has his memories to rely on. The heaviest track on the CD and perhaps based on a traditional Chinese melody with a hint of Fish vocals (as in Marillion). This is a poetic and great finale to the CD, and the Marianne trilogy.