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, July 23, 2019

Ruiko Kurahashi -- Without Sugar

I guess Ruiko must've attended the Kentucky Derby one year.

Last night, I was given a kind invitation by a fellow named Mitchell to come aboard the City Pop Discord server, and so I dropped on in earlier this morning before I had to run my usual errands. Had a nice chat with some of the members there and with time permitting, I hope I can drop in again soon.

Even the initial talk was very beneficial since I found out during our banter online that a YouTuber by the name of City Pop Dave had uploaded the June 1981 debut album of Ruiko Kurahashi(倉橋ルイ子), "Without Sugar". For those who have known the blog well enough and long enough, it's probably already internalized that I'm a huge fan of Kurahashi and have been for almost as long as I have been a kayo fan, and I was more than happy to attend her Minami-Aoyama concert years ago on a very rainy Friday night. New uploads of Kurahashi material onto YouTube are quite rare so it's doubly celebratory when something like "Without Sugar" is up.

City Pop Dave said in the YouTube description that he found "Without Sugar" at a record store in Toulouse, France. For me, I was able to get my copy of it thanks to my friendship with a fellow Ruiko fan over Mixi. He was just very impressed that there was indeed a Canadian east of the Rockies who was actually a fan of our mutual singing heroine.

If I were to describe Kurahashi and her music in a number of words, they would be: stylish, sophisticated, poignant, urbane, down-home and folksy. And even though "Without Sugar" was her first album, this album already showed all of these traits. I've already written on four of the eleven tracks, the old-fashioned standard of "Glass no Yesterday"(ガラスのYesterday), the truly mellow "Never Fall In Love", the heartbreaking "Love Is Over" and the innocent "Uwasa...Still Love You"(噂...Still Love You), so let's see if I can do a few more here.

Track 2 at 3:50 is "Asahi no Shizumu Toki"(朝日の沈むとき...When The Morning Sun Sets), created by Fumiko Okada(岡田冨美子)and Kazuya Amikura(網倉一也). It's a typical Ruiko ballad as it combines her soft and plaintive vocals with the sweeping arrangement of violins and keyboards.

Track 3 at 7:09 is "Twilight Cafe"(トワイライト・カフェ). This one is interesting as it seems to meld the eternal couple banter of Maurice Chevalier & Hermione Gingold's "I Remember It Well" with a bossa-tinged City Pop/Parisian melody. Kurahashi's partner is none other than musician-composer Katsuo Ono(大野克夫), who created those dynamic theme songs for shows like "Taiyo ni Hoero"(太陽にほえろ). It's not my absolute favourite track but it does fit nicely around the premise of an older and very comfortable duo at a much-beloved coffee establishment. Machiko Ryu(竜真知子)provided the lyrics while Taeko Ohnuki(大貫妙子)gave the sweet melody.

"Billy no Yasashii Yoru"(ビリーの優しい夜...Gentle Night for Billy)at 16:28 goes even more bossa and for me, this would be up there as one of my favourites because of how more whispery Ruiko's vocals become. They just glide silkily along with Akira Inoue's(井上鑑)arrangement. With the name in the title and the shoutouts to the Piano Man's hits in Ichizo Fukuda's(福田一三)lyrics, this is a tribute to Billy Joel. I love the guitar and sax solos and the way once again that the ballad combines bossa nova and that definitely made-in-Japan version of City Pop. When I hear it, I know that I have to be in that Shinjuku hotel-top bar.

My final song for this article is "Haru no Kareha"(春の枯葉)at 31:41 that fulfills the side of Kurahashi's discography involving that European feeling and Fashion Music. Those zippy strings and the jaunty beat can take listeners to Paris once more, and the final flourish by the instruments finish these on a definitively dramatic note. The same duo of Okada and Amikura behind Track 2 is also behind this one. The English subtitle is "Bye-Bye My Love" but the literal translation for the title is "The Falling Leaves of Spring" which, in a way, can also describe our professional hockey team (inside Toronto joke).

I've realized that Kurahashi's "Without Sugar" is plenty sweet on its own and it has a potpourri of other flavours, to boot. It's not just City Pop but it mixes in some other genres which illustrates how versatile she has been. Having said that, I will always love the creaminess of her vocals.

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