I was talking with my friend yesterday and he remarked that we've basically gone from winter to summer within a period of several days. He's right...if I'm not mistaken, less than a month ago, we were at the mercy of a chilling ice storm, and now we've been sweltering in heat and humidity that has obviously merited a Humidex warning. Not that a lot of folks here are complaining, mind you. We've all gone through several months of snow and cold so it's great that we can actually wear less clothing. I even sent some of my winter coats out for dry cleaning this morning.
Minako Yoshida（吉田美奈子）has been one of the more underrated singers, in my estimation, over the decades. Perhaps it's not too much of an exaggeration to declare that Yoshida can be called The Godmother of J-R&B. In my case, though, I'm not working from a huge collection of her discography since I only have four of her albums from her early years thus far with the most recent one being "Light'n Up" (1982) which was the one disc that I had purchased first. However, from what I have heard, she is one of the best singers that I've ever come across.
A few days ago, one commenter Bruno J. Silva asked me in Portuguese if I could actually write about "EXTREME BEAUTY", Yoshida's 13th studio album which was released in February 1995. I had been a bit hesitant since I've not sampled any of her material beyond "Light'n Up" but this was Yoshida and I figured that the lady could do no wrong so I did a search for any of her songs from this particular album.
Having said that, I was able to discover "EXTREME BEAUTY" on Dailymotion (for now) and another site. I was also fortunate to find a fairly extensive and interesting explanation of the album on J-Wiki. Ah, fair warning to you...the Dailymotion video tends to cut out for those 15-second commercials right in the middle of the songs. Yes, annoying as all heck, but websites gotta make money, too, I guess.
Thirteen years following "Light'n Up", I would assume that Yoshida's choice of music would have evolved since then, as it should have. At 2:57 is the track "Beauty", which was also her 8th single from January 1995, written and composed by her. It is the same soulful voice with even more flavour but the music is not the funk n' soul of her City Pop days; it's more of a breezy and inspirational pop.
I was surprised to read that at that point, it had been 13 years since Tatsuro Yamashita（山下達郎）had collaborated with Yoshida since I felt that those two folks were tied at the waist when it came to songwriting and performance. However, he was back to assist in the chorus for "Beauty" and the other tracks. The song was used for a winter campaign for East Japan Railway Company.
Reading the mass of Japanese contained in the article for "EXTREME BEAUTY", my general impression is that Yoshida may have had a crisis of sorts along the lines of "What am I really doing here with my career?" The release of this album was her first in 5 years since "gazer" in 1990. And apparently, she relayed in a 1995 interview for Schola Magazine that she had gotten rather stressed out and simply wanted to withdraw from the world for a while to recuperate.
At 21:23 is "Liberty" which was the coupling song to "Beauty" with Minnie Shady and Aki Ikuta（生田朗...Yoshida's husband, so I'm wondering if Shady is simply the singer's pseudonym）providing the lyrics while Yoshida composed the gospel-influenced tune. It is actually a cover for a song that had originally been performed by Masayuki Suzuki（鈴木雅之）, and I think the song is in one of the albums by Martin that I have. Isn't it perfect for him? For that matter, isn't it perfect for Yoshida? If there were a track on the album that probably got the singer-songwriter to regain the joy of singing, it would be probably this one. From the J-Wiki article, I think the gist of some of those sad times involving her was that, according to her, she may have gotten distracted by things other than the music and once she realized that her priority was her songs, she got her groove back. In a way, her experience seems to mirror that of her contemporary Taeko Ohnuki（大貫妙子）during the two years between "Mignonne" and "Romantique" back in the late 1970s.
My final song is at 46:17 "Seirei no Oriru Machi"（精霊の降りる街...Spirited Town）which seems to settle nicely in the middle between "Beauty" and "Liberty" in terms of tone. I've only gotten to listen to the song twice but I have that feeling of inspiration and movement. And yet, going back to the article via that Schola interview, Yoshida insists that the songs aren't meant to be religious or directly connected with gospel. Furthermore, although she feels that the songs aren't meant to be sung while in a trance and have been performed as calmly as possible, she admits to being affected by a feeling of sorts at points. I was quite intrigued by that statement since her opinion comes across as being quite coolly rational, almost Spock-like, although I think many listeners including myself have been moved by the album.
Again, I'm not sure how long the album will stay up at Dailymotion but there are excerpts at Amazon.jp as shown above. However, "EXTREME BEAUTY" would be a fine album to acquire and to add to my collection, and if you're a Yoshida fan and you don't have it yet, why not make that investment?