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.

Sunday, March 29, 2020

Hayabusa -- Choten Fever!(超天フィーバー!)

Caught a rerun of an NHK kayo program yesterday afternoon, and one of the featured guests was the group Hayabusa(はやぶさ)with their return of the good ol' kayo in the 21st century. I first mentioned about them in late 2017, and since then, the trio has been whittled down to a duo (just Hikaru and Yamato now).

Hayabusa performed their September 2019 single "Choten Fever!" (Ultra Heaven Fever!), an odd amalgam of enka and disco as the main vocalist Hikaru sings about the good life in the dance clubs with that characteristic vibrato of the former genre done to the beat of the latter genre. As Hikaru goes high, Yamato goes low like the bass guy of a doo-wop group. Written and composed by Kenichi Maeyamada(前山田健一), who I usually associate with zany anison, "Choten Fever!" sounds as if it should have been a theme for an anime somewhere, and sure enough, it was one of the opening themes for "Duel Masters!!" in 2017. It doesn't quite hit the mark for me, but it's fun and quirky enough that I had to mention it.

(short version)

Eiko Hiraiwa -- Kazoku no Eien(家族の永遠)

I've had this in the backlog for a while so it sounds like I'm hearing this song for the first time. And indeed, this is the first time for me to hear the works of Hiroshima singer-songwriter Eiko Hiraiwa(平岩英子).  After graduating from Kunitachi College of Music, she became an instructor at Rythmique, a music school for children, and then received some very nice notices for a demo tape that she'd left at Sony Music during an audition session.

Her debut single "Watashi ga Watashi de aru Toki"(私が私である時...When I am Myself)was released in 1995, and in the same year, her first album came out, "Deep Breath". On it is the track "Kazoku no Eien" (Eternity of the Family), a song that begins with a rich and echoing piano. I guess that I'm also a sucker for those resonant pop ballads with a feeling of old-fashioned flavour, thanks to some warm cello. Listening to this one, I get hints of Chika Ueda(上田知華)and Karyobin, and later on, a tinny horn along with some gospel blues piano come in to provide that grand finale.

Thus far, Hiraiwa has released seven singles and five albums up to 2000. She has also provided songs for singer-actresses Ryoko Hirosue(広末涼子)and Yukie Nakama(仲間由紀恵).

Elephant Kashimashi -- Ore-tachi no Ashita(俺たちの明日)

Hope all of you are having a good weekend. It's been refreshingly cool and not cold today and the rain has let up so I could go out and grab a newspaper. Speaking with my Skype student last night, it seems like there was an unusual amount of snow falling on Tokyo earlier today...probably all melted by now.

This morning after breakfast, I was lounging about watching TV Japan and the NHK documentary series "Mokugeki! Nippon"(目撃!にっぽん...Witness! Japan)came on about a group of middle-aged fellows putting on the gloves and learning how to kickbox. Halfway through the show, an Elephant Kashimashi(エレファントカシマシ)tune came on called "Ore-tachi no Ashita" (Our Tomorrow) as an appropriate theme for the fighters.

Released as the band's 34th single in November 2007, and created by raspy-voiced vocalist Hiroji Miyamoto(宮本浩次), I learned that it was the singer's shoutout to all of his buddies, past and present, to see if they were doing OK. It was actually used as a campaign song for an energy drink, but under the current circumstances, I believe that "Ore-tachi no Ashita" can now be used as a tune of encouragement for everyone on the planet.

The single peaked at No. 18 on Oricon, and as for the music video higher up, that was apparently filmed on a building rooftop somewhere near Yokohama Stadium. "Ore-tachi no Ashita" was also a track on Elephant Kashimashi's 18th album "STARTING OVER" from January 2008, and that release broke into the Top 10 at No. 7.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Keisuke Yamauchi -- Zanshou(残照)

(short version)

A couple of weeks ago, enka singer Keisuke Yamauchi(山内惠介)made one of his fairly frequent appearances on NHK's "Uta Kon"(うたコン), and I found out that the fellow was celebrating his 20th anniversary in show business! Like, when did he debut? Was he just entering senior kindergarten?!

Well, actually, he was probably going through high school since Yamauchi is now 36 years old. The lad is truly a bidanshi. Anyways, to commemorate that anniversary, his latest single came out a mere few weeks ago. Titled "Zanshou" (Afterglow), it seems to be a yearning for that special someone to not go away, and it was created by the same duo behind a Yamauchi single from the previous year, "Kuchibiru Scarlet"(唇スカーレット), Goro Matsui and Hideo Mizumori(松井五郎・水森英夫).

(karaoke version)

"Zanshou" has got plenty of emotion-on-sleeve-brio with guitar and cutting strings. In fact, because it sounds somewhat similar to "Yukiguni"(雪国), my old karaoke favourite, I had assumed that it was made by Ikuzo Yoshi(吉幾三)himself. But I gather that Yoshi hasn't cornered the market for bay-at-the-moon enka/Mood Kayo. I wouldn't be surprised if Yamauchi performs this one at this year's Kohaku Utagassen.

Yusuke Honma -- Theme from "Sommelier"(ソムリエ)

The other day, I caught former SMAP member Goro Inagaki(稲垣吾郎), the silent one, show up as a physician on the NHK morning serial drama "Scarlet"(スカーレット)which just wrapped up its time earlier today.

Inagaki has had his time on numerous dramas over the decades while being a SMAP guy, and the one series that I remember is "Sommelier", a 1998 Fuji-TV show which featured the man as a top-class sommelier with a near-supernatural ability to pick the right vintage for the right person at the right occasion. His role is similar to a lot of other roles in other shows which focus around a genius fount of wisdom. Those folks maintain this aura of invincibility as the other characters seem to be losing their heads in a crisis while appearing more stoic than Mr. Spock after a successful Kolinahr ritual.

I managed to find the opening and ending themes for "Sommelier", and I was specifically searching for that ending theme since it's been used a ton of times on variety shows since it first made its appearance over 20 years ago. Composed by Yusuke Honma(本間勇輔)who also has another feather in his cap through his creation of the theme for master TV detective Ninzaburo Furuhata, the "Sommelier" theme led by a wonderful trumpet seems to convey not only the regal purity of Inagaki's legendary sommelier Satake but also the majestic tradition of knowing and educating the great unwashed about fine wines. So, not surprisingly, the ending theme has been used whenever a show segment is showing off something having to do with wine or wineries or some sort of high-class establishment in Japan or abroad.

Unfortunately, I couldn't find any footage from "Sommelier" on YouTube (not sure if the series ever became a hit), but did find this video from "SMAP X SMAP" with Inagaki in character briefly having to deal with the usual hijinks of a variety show. No majesty here. I gotta say, though, that "Sommelier" did teach me the expression of fusawashii(相応しい)or fitting/appropriate.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Yukari Ito -- Koi no Festa(恋のFesta)

Managed to find something appropriately festive for a Friday night, and this would be "Koi no Festa" (Festa of Love), the opening track on veteran singer Yukari Ito's(伊東ゆかり)April 1986 album "HANAGUMORI". I've always admired how Ito has tried on a number of different genres for size over the decades starting from her teenybopper days in the 1960s performing covers of American pop hits.

Well, she's had her dalliances in the City Pop genre in the 1980s, specifically "Misty Hour" in 1982, but over here with "Koi no Festa", there's more of that Latin sizzle although there is that certain keyboard which kinda keeps one foot in City Pop. Written by Masako Arikawa(有川正沙子)and composed by the late Junko Hirotani(広谷順子), I love that velvety voice behind the mike although sometimes the choice of synths gets the song a little cheesy but not so much that I start doing cringes.

Kingo Hamada -- midnight cruisin' (album)

I think now that the world at large has gotten to know about Japanese City Pop, there is most likely a good number of veteran listeners who can guide the newbies to the genre. Perhaps the figurative Jedi Master will get that question from his/her Padawan: "What is Japanese City Pop all about?" I mean, if I got that question, I would readily point to a couple of albums right off the bat: Takako Mamiya's(間宮貴子)"Love Trip" and then Makoto Matsushita's(松下誠)"First Light". Every Master has gonna have ready references to help out their proteges, so to speak. As for kaz-shin, the blogger behind the Japanese-language "Music Avenue", his answer for that very question is Kingo Hamada's(濱田金吾)"midnight cruisin'".

Released in October 1982, "midnight cruisin'" was released as Hamada's 4th album, and I've already talked about a couple of tracks from there including the title track and the final track "Mayonaka no Tennis Court"(真夜中のテニスコート). It's frankly a surprise that I've yet to grab this one since I've got his BEST compilation. Both tracks are great and hopefully when the current international situation settles down, maybe I can get back to my purchases of CDs including this one.

Allow me, then, to go over at least a few more tracks from "midnight cruisin'", starting with the opening track, "Dakare ni Kita Onna"(抱かれに来た女...The Lady Coming to Embrace Me)which both kaz-shin and I appreciate for that cornet opening by Shin Kazuhara(数原晋). kaz-shin also mentions that the song automatically signals out the city and the night, and I can add that the opening can readily be used for any City Pop radio program. In fact, I could say that it could even adorn a "Lupin III" or "City Hunter" soundtrack. It sets up listeners for that titular midnight cruise on the streets. Hamada took care of the composition for all of the tracks and with "Dakare ni Kita Onna", it was Chinfa Kan(康珍化as the lyricist.

Track 2 is "Yokogao no Taxi Driver"(横顔のタクシー・ドライバー・...Taxi Driver in Profile)which actually comes across as more of a Yuming-esque 70s AOR number. Maybe there is even some Carpenters in there with the addition of the flute. This doesn't strike me as being a nighttime tune; I'd posit that the latest this would be portrayed during the day would be twilight. It's a gentle romantic ballad that can be shared with a loved one on a park bench. Kazuko Kobayashi(小林和子)was responsible for the words here.

Next, we have "So, I Love You", also a collaboration between Hamada and Kobayashi, which takes things into a jazzier bent, perhaps in Shinjuku's famous club DUG. However, those lush strings and that faint oboe once again bring images of Richard and Karen Carpenter along with a lot of AOR balladry. When I was listening to Hamada's BEST album, I noticed that he liked to swing broadly between AOR/City Pop and jazz.

One more song that I'll cover is "Semete Karari to Harete kure"(せめてからりと晴れてくれ...At Least, Make It Fine and Sunny), an intriguing gryphon of a tune with an innocent reggae beat here, some sharp and tight jazz via the horn section there, and that overall feeling of a fun night in a little section of the big city. With Etsuko Kisugi(来生えつこ)behind the lyrics, kaz-shin states that it's both Makoto Matsushita(松下誠)and Hamada performing on the guitars. Maybe the whole nature of the song is about checking some really fascinating corners of East Shinjuku during a major all-night pub crawl.

So it looks like "midnight cruisin'" isn't just about the usual Fender Rhodes and boppy bass-driven City Pop after all. It brings into play some nice touches of jazz and 70s AOR as well. All the better for the listener. One final point by kaz-shin that stuck with me comes at the end of his article on the album. He says that if taking a car drive down to the ocean, Tatsuro Yamashita(山下達郎)and Toshiki Kadomatsu(角松敏生)are the go-to guys on the stereo, but when making that trip back home, some Yasuhiro Abe(安部恭弘)and Kingo Hamada are the way to go. I can agree with that since there are a number of tracks on "midnight cruisin'" that have that certain mellowness to go with a drive home after a happy day on the beach (although I hope that it's the passengers and not the driver that get sleepy). In any case, kaz-shin's final sentence is that listeners should pop this into the car stereo during that night drive. I can also state that it's also wonderful listening to it in the evening hours while lounging on some comfy furniture. I'll see if I can take care of the other tracks in the months to come.