December 2, 2009Dawen's debut album, "American Me,"which was released back in September, wastes no time stating his passion for Asian American identity. "Flip through the paper, turn on the telly, go to a movie," he croons in his supple, silky soprano. Then he slips into the first verse:
Just because you saw the movie Crouching Tiger Doesnâ€™t mean that I know kung-fu And just because Mr. Yan has an accent Doesnâ€™t mean that Iâ€™ve got one too People tell me I â€œspeak good Englishâ€ Or that Iâ€™m â€œtoo thin to be Bruce Leeâ€ Where do they get their preconceptions Of what Iâ€™m supposed to be?That's his first single, but the first track on the album, is more blunt in addressing the inequities of many immigrants of color to the U.S.:
Welcome to the USA Freedom is your right Land of opportunity Only if youâ€™re white Welcome to the USA Sea to shining sea I give my money, give my life Still they stare at me Welcome, Welcome, heyâ€¦On the third track, "Ku Li," Dawen weaves in the lyrics from the folk song, "I've been working on the railroad," into a stunning statement about how Chinese immigrants were treated as slave labor during the taming of the American West. What's amazing, despite such in-your-face lyrics, is that Dawen wraps his message in an incredible wealth of warm musicality, starting with his soulful R&B vocals to his must-be-classically-and-jazz-trained keyboards and his guitar work, and his hooky instincts for get-in-your-head melodies and late-night funk bedrock rhythms. The album is a mellow, low-key wonder that can play in the background or zoom into the foreground with the sharply-observed social activism of the first eight tracks.