Maltese Rock: Otobune

Otobune means ‘Ship of Sounds’ and is an accurate reference to the musical voyage that Okinawa based Maltese Rock have been on since their formation in 1997. The band – led by vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Morito – describe what they play as punk, blues, Okinawan folk song and gypsy music (and a few other styles too) and they have created a bit of a cult following not least in the Sakaemachi market of Naha where Morito runs his own bar.

Their previous album three years ago led to an appearance in 2016 at a Womex showcase in Galicia, Spain and also to live shows in Poland and Taiwan. The new album is shorter (at 37 minutes) and is more straightforward and more tightly arranged than its predecessor. This generally works to its advantage as in the past the dominating presence of Morito has revelled a bit too much in showing off all the wildness.

This is not to say that Morito takes a back seat. The distinctive sound of the album is still that of his gravelly voice and six of the eight songs are his compositions. The exceptions are the first and last tracks.

Rinsho Kadekaru’s poignant ‘Jidai no Nagare’is transformed into the band’s own style for a fine opener. Closing the album is a new take on the familiar ‘What a Wonderful World’. It has been noted here before that Okinawans (and Japanese) have a disturbing habit of choosing the most hackneyed and obvious Western songs. (‘Amazing Grace’ or ‘’Danny Boy’ anyone?).  But Morito’s new Japanese lyrics and his inimitable vocal just about get away with this one.

Of the original songs two of the more conventional (if one can ever say that about Maltese Rock) are the most successful, and ‘Under the Bridge’ and ‘Melancholic Reimy’ are both very good additions to their canon. The five band members are joined by Yoko Tada who makes an important contribution on several tracks with saxophone, clarinet and flute. Yukito Ara also joins them to play sanshin on three songs.

Overall this is a very good release and while it doesn’t move in any significant new direction it will please fans of the band and will serve to further enhance their already high reputation.

Otobune is released today (1st June) on the Music from Okinawa label. Maltese Rock will play a joint concert with the band Hanggai from Mongolia at Sakurazaka Theatre (Hall A) Naha on 5th June at 19:00.

www.musicfromokinawa.com

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