Monday, April 29, 2019

Sachiko Kanenobu's "Misora" - A folk masterpiece

It's hard to imagine what Japanese music sounded like before the recent gratification of the 1980s era of City Pop but, believe it or not, Japanese musicians were making waves across the country in plenty of other ways prior to this explosion. The Japanese folk scene, for example, was alive and brimming with talent well before folks like Tatsuro Yamashita and Taeko Ohnuki came on the scene, with a great number of bands and solo musicians strumming away at guitars whilst reforming the conceptions of Japanese pop music at large. There's a lot to go through, and thankfully the compilation "Even a Tree Can Shed Tears" released last year by Light in the Attic records, offers a breather from the City Pop and YouTube algorithm chart toppers with a look at the country's diverse scene of folk music, with the album featuring an expertly curated role call of the scene's most important and overlooked musicians. Household names like Japanese pop music founders Happy End and its prolific bassist Haruomi Hosono are listed among dozens of other musicians I would have otherwise never known about. From bands to singer songwriters, there's a little bit of everything here whether its a certain vocal style, lyrical content, or musical prowess you seek.

Female vocalists are on of my recent obsessions, and the album doesn't disappoint in its offerings of talented women in the scene. Women were not as active in the folk scene as men (unfortunately) but theres definitely a quality over quantity on here with the female vocalists being particularly wonderful. Sachiko Kanenobu steals the show here, heralded as the first female singer-songwriter in Japan and one of the first women to pick up a guitar in the flurry of folk music in the 70s. But this isn't novelty alone, and Kanenobu easily eclipses her male contemporaries on LITA's compilation.  Her voice can be heard at the beginning and end of the compilation: first, a track off her solo album Misora and then as a vocalist of the mysterious band Gu. Her gentle voice really stuck with me as I gave the album repeated listens, but it wasn't just her vocal quality that had caught my attention--surely, Kanenobu's talent extended to her songwriting skills, her penchant for pairing her alluring voice with delicate guitar arrangements that was what really drew me in. What's impressive is that her work has  aged so well it's eerie. If you didn't know the date of its release, any of the tracks on Misora sound like they could come from a release in the last year, resounding with SSWs like Ayano Kaneko or Satoko Shibata with ease. Perhaps there is some ephemeral quality to something as simple as vocals and guitar strewn together with only talented melodies and songwriting ability.

And it seems like others seem to think so, too. At the beginning of this year, The New York Times ran an article about her and musician Steve Gunn. Kanenobu made such a profound impression on him that she was invited to open for shows on his tour. She also recounts the warm reception she received in Japan for performing the album for the first time in front of a live audience. I was surprised that she had been quite close to the late author Philip K. Dick--the Light in the Attic compilation mentions that she moved to the US and did not release much music after her eponymous Misora. Decades after releasing this little gem of an album, Kanenobu seems to finally be recognized for her talent.

Speaking of Misora, the album is finally getting a reissue on vinyl and CD by none other than the record label responsible for the aforementioned compilation. Lite in the Attic will, hopefully, press enough copies to go around so people all over the world can enjoy Kanenobu's timeless masterpiece.

No comments:

Post a Comment