I would like to give credit where credit is due. Videos are from YouTube and other sources such as NicoNico while Oricon rankings and other information are translated from the Japanese Wikipedia unless noted.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Ginza Evening (compilation album)

Back in August 2014, I wrote up an article about Yoko Kuzuya's(葛谷葉子)"Koi"(恋)which was this rich ballad from this compilation album called "Ginza Evening" which was released back in 2001. Looking at the title, I had assumed that there would be a whole bunch of snazzy Mood Kayo songs in there but then on seeing the fuzzy background image on the booklet, I started wondering. And then on giving it a test listen at one of the listening posts in the CD shop, my mind was definitely changed. The tracks were all of a mellow contemporary nature. This was more of spending a quiet rainy Sunday afternoon in a Ginza cafe (and yep, I have been in a few of those) rather than a raucous night in a Ginza nightclub.

The wonderful thing about picking up these compilation albums is that not only do I re-discover some of those old tunes that had once been gathering dust in the brain but I also get to discover new wonderful songs from artists that I would never have heard unless I buy one of these omnibus releases.

Yoko Kuzuya was one such example. Another is Yuka Kawamura(川村結花), a singer-songwriter who was born in Osaka. She actually gained (further) fame when she helped pen the SMAP megahit, "Yozora no Mukou"(夜空ノムコウ)in 1998 a few years after she had first debuted. But I didn't get to finally hear the singer part of her until I picked up "Ginza Evening" and listened to her 8th single from February 1999, "Every Breath You Take", and no, it has nothing to do with that early 80s hit by The Police.

Speaking of The Police, I vaguely remember an interview with Sting during which, when told that his song was about loyal devotion to a loved one, he surprisingly countered that one of his band's most famous tunes was actually about stalker-like obsession. I could imagine that interviewer's jaw dropping onto the floor. Kawamura's own "Every Breath You Take" is happily more innocent via the lyrics in which the singer declares her support for that significant other no matter how trying the circumstances. The song does sound as if it had been recorded straight from the floor of an intimate nightclub in front of an audience while Kawamura's vocals and piano have that feeling of a performance from way back in the 1970s. It is also featured on her 3rd album "Lush Life" from April of that same year.

There is a lot to be introspective about when it comes to "Ginza Evening". Another ballad that helps in that endeavour is Akiko Yano's(矢野顕子)"New Song". This was originally from her 1995 album "Piano Nightly", and although "New Song" has that relaxing atmosphere, Yano's words are there to help the listener come out of any gloom and doom.

One of my favourite tracks has been "Kiss no Ondo"(キスの温度...Temperature of a Kiss)by the duo known as wyolica. They have been defined according to Wikipedia as "...a two-piece folk pop/chillout group from Japan". Since I'm not all that well versed on those newfangled genre names, I'm going to imagine that chillout doesn't include bands such as Loudness or X Japan. And certainly "Kiss no Ondo" as purred by vocalist Azumi would probably have me imagining that I was in a tiny hidden cafe in bohemian Shimo-Kitazawa rather than a Renoir (a long-running coffee house chain) in Ginza. That Latin guitar and the mellow keyboards definitely do fine by me. Azumi wrote the lyrics while guitarist so-to and Shinichi "Mondo Grosso" Osawa(大沢伸一)took care of the music. "Kiss no Ondo" first appeared on wyolica's debut album "who said 'La La...'?" from February 2000 which peaked at No. 17 on Oricon.

Crystal Kay was another one of those artists that I saw and listened to during that period when R&B really started making the rounds in J-Pop in the late 1990s and early 2000s along with folks like m-flo and Misia. However, the one song by her that stayed in my brain was the one she debuted with, "Eternal Memories" from July 1999. She recorded this song when she was 13 years old (maybe I can have my niece listen to this one just to provide her with a bit of inspiration) and it was put into heavy rotation merely by having it become the campaign song for a long-running commercial on TV.

Listening to the whole song, there is something haunting but also quite soothing about "Eternal Memories", especially when she sings the mantra:

I will go and try, to find what's in my self
I need to find the way, to find what's in my self
I know it's not that easy, but I'll try

My memory of the original commercial song had it sounding a little more energetic but I still like this slower version that is in "Ginza Evening" since it is going along with the overall mellow tone of the album. Hiroshi Ichikura(一倉宏)and Crystal Kay provided the lyrics while the marvelous Yoko Kanno(菅野よう子)composed the hypnotic melody. Kanno had just created something a whole lot more jazzier the year before.

There are of course a number of other tracks on the album but I will probably give some of them some more individual attention in the near future. But the take-away here is that just like B-sides on an old 45" record, don't count out some of those subtle compilation albums.

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