I was searching for inspiration for making another blog post (something different than the normal monthly reviews) when I realised that it has been long time since I have last written anything about albums from Japanese artists. Japan is a place that has always been fascinating for me, mainly due to its vast, versatile, sometimes bizarre but always exquisite cultural production and this adoration I have tried to express by devoting a small but important part of my record collection to Japanese artists. For this blog post, I have selected 3 diverse but - in my humble opinion - equally significant albums .
Contrary to the majority of the Asian countries, Japan - and that is mainly due to the American occupation after the Second World War - has received earlier the influence of western musical genres like Jazz, Blues and Rock. Maki Asakawa, one of the most important Japanese Jazz and Blues singers, was born in Mikawa (a relatively small town) before deciding to relocate in Tokyo in order to be able to express her love for American Jazz and Blues by singing in small clubs and US military bases. This double compilation collects some of her iconic performances from an extended discography spanning in more than 30 albums most of them recorded live. Asakawa's output was neither groundbreaking nor innovative, she was rather faithfully following her influences. However there is something melancholic and "dark" in her overall way of performance that makes her music the perfect soundtrack for late night relaxation listenings. Songs like her cover version of Blue Spirit Blues are a good example...
Girls were a band with a name equally simplistic and straightforward as their music. Their were labeled as the Japanese answer to The Runaways, they have even recorded a cover version of Cherry Bomb and even though their music can be called nothing near to groundbreaking they can still be considered as pioneers back in 1977 being an all-girls band performing in a traditionally conservative environment. Their music was a mix of punk, rock, funk, jazz...a little bit of everything blended together but delivered with the typical Japanese perfectionism (especially when it has to do with the guitar work and the overall production).
And last but not least, an album that I consider it to be amongst the gems of my collection, the wonderful double LP compilation with the poetic name Even A Tree Can Shed Tears: Japanese Folk & Rock which contains some of the best artists from Japan's golden folk-rock era, or as it was commonly known as the Angura movement...
Quoting from the liner notes:
There was something in the air in the urban corners of late '60s Japan. Student protests and a rising youth culture gave way to the angura (short for "underground) movement that thrived on subverting traditions of the post-war years. Rejection of the Beatlemania-inspired Group Sounds and the squeaky clean College Folk movements led the rise of what came to be known in Japan as "New Music," where authenticity mattered more than replicating the sounds of their idols. Some of the most influential figures in Japanese pop music emerged from this vital period, yet very little of their work has ever been released or heard outside of Japan, until now.
Between the artists compiled here, we find again Maki Asakawa and the future Sadistic Mika Band founder Kazuhiko Kato in my personal favourite from this wonderful collections of songs.