Takashi Hirayasu & Bob Brozman: Nankuru Naisa
Riverboat/World Music Network
JIN JIN/FIREFLY, last year's collaboration between idiosyncratic Japanese folkie Takashi Hirayasu and Hawaiian steel-guitar master Bob Brozman, was that rarest of occurrences: a successful blind date. Recorded on an island off the coast of Takashi's native Okinawa, the album avoided the usual pitfalls of Yankee-plus-Other match-ups in which Americans who shall remain nameless (Ry Cooder) add cult celebrity and extraneous musical input to artists who have far more use for the former than the latter. Instead, the duo's on-the-spot arrangements of the album's traditional Japanese folk songs were organic in the best sense--totally unaffected and totally complementary, their jauntiness sounding like the work of an old couple. It was a considerable achievement, given that the album was created during the first four days of Hirayasu and Brozman's acquaintance.
Since they've known each other for an entire year now, the sturdiness of the new Nankuru Naisa isn't quite as surprising. But it is just as compelling. Hirayasu doesn't need to dip into the public domain songbook for instant classics; the new album proves he can write them himself. The jovial "Koza No Machi" sounds like something Bing Crosby might have used to make The Road to Hollywood into The Road to Okinawa. The title track's see-sawing rowboat melody feels like a lost Japanese bonus track from Have Moicy!, the classic folk jamboree from Michael Hurley, the Holy Modal Rounders, and Jeffrey Frederick. And "Mensoreyo-Toshin Doi" moves irresistibly forward, with one note leapfrogging over itself and repeating until it climaxes with a male chorus shouting, "So! So! So! So! So! So!"
But it's the slow song, "Tojo Nite," that's most indelible. It nearly passes by unnoticed, its finger-picked backdrop seeming to meander, but one soon realizes how lovely Hirayasu's singing is: steely, delicate, full of longing. What lost love is he serenading? I wondered while listening to it. Checking the CD booklet, I was humbled by the answer: The song is about the Okinawa music broadcast over American military radio during the Vietnam War. (Okinawa served as an American supply base at that time.) "James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Temp-taaay-tions," Hirayasu sings with lingering fondness. Then Brozman's slide guitar swoops him up and carries him all the way home.
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