Akane Murayoshi: Challenge

This is the second album from 22 year old singer Akane Murayoshi who is from the Okinawan island of Kume. She has been singing traditional songs and playing sanshin since she was a child and won several awards for minyo as a teenager. Her first album Miyarabi nu Hana (2008) featured original rather than traditional songs and was a fine start. With this new release, on the Arakachi label, she has tried to do something different – hence the title – and the recordings span a variety of popular styles. Like the debut album, this set relies heavily on songs written by her uncle Yoshimi Aragaki. Most of the arrangements are by hip-hop musician and producer Tatsumi Chibana. Sadly though, the results are as tacky and unimaginative as the album’s garish cover design, which is a real shame.

The album begins with ‘Aitai’, an old-fashioned sounding love song in which Murayoshi’s voice is accompanied by a rollicking rhythm section and programmed strings while the sanshin chugs along hopefully in the background as it does for much of the album.  The next song ‘Furusato’ is in vaguely country and western mode which doesn’t sound any better and it contains lazy, hackneyed lyrics about Okinawa. On ‘Kumejima Ondo’ she is accompanied only by sanshin and taiko so should be on firmer ground but even here the voice sounds uncomfortable. ‘Akai Ito’ returns to a busy funk arrangement which is at odds with Murayoshi’s vocal, and then the dreadful singalong ‘Tanjobi’ hits a new low point from which the album never recovers. As if to pile on the agony there is also another ‘acoustic version’ of ‘Furusato’ and another ‘Latin version’ of the opening track. The slow jazzy style of the final song ‘Curtain Call’ almost comes off but by this time it’s a lost cause.

Challenge is on a par with the latest Nenes album Okurimono as a contender for the most misjudged project of the past year. But at least Nenes are singing well despite the poverty of ideas. On Challenge even Murayoshi’s vocals seem shaky and unconvincing. Now that she has got this one out of her system perhaps she will rethink what she wants to do and will make the really good album of which she is surely capable.

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