Archive for September 2019

The Hackles: A Dobritch Did As A Dobritch Should

September 24, 2019

This is the second album by Oregon-based American guitar and banjo duo The Hackles. The pair Kati Claborn and Luke Ydstie met in 2008 and have been making music together ever since. Their musical projects also include being members of the band Blind Pilot.

Now their own songs are given full reign again on this new album and their musical style is described in their own press release as ‘melodic, shimmering indie folk’. The ten tracks cover a range that comes close to both Appalachian-style folk roots and country inflected pop without ever going full tilt into either. This is no bad thing as they have their own way with words and music that is satisfyingly understated.

Claborn says that in these songs they want to “look at the big picture through individual lives” and to make sense of the present by looking to the past. The eccentric (some might say irritating) title of the album is therefore a reference to 20th century Bulgarian circus impresario Al Dobritch whose eventful life came to a sudden end in the USA when he jumped to his death on the Las Vegas Strip. It appears in the story song ‘The Show Goes On’.

The Hackles

At various points they flesh out some of the songs with the addition of strings, fiddle, piano, percussion and slide guitar but always it’s the song and the singing that remain at the core. The two share vocal duties and frequently sing harmony with Claborn taking the lead on the bulk of the songs. The country influenced ‘Dreamer’ is aptly titled as much of the album has a dreamy atmosphere with some tracks running naturally into each other.

At the centre of the album, and positioned back to back, are its two finest songs ‘Peaches’ and ‘The Empty Cups’. Like several of the others, ‘Peaches’ is a simple guitar and banjo-led composition with harmony vocals but above all it contains some lovely turns and musical developments. It ends too soon but is then followed by the equally simple and subtly subdued ‘The Empty Cups’.

For no discernible reason the singing and songs of both Linda Thompson and Mary Chapin Carpenter were conjured up at times in this listener’s mind but The Hackles are making music that is distinctly their own. This set of tranquil, idiosyncratic songs will do just fine.

A Dobritch Did As A Dobritch Should will be released by Jealous Butcher Records on 8th November.

www.jealousbutcher.com

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Notes on Nenes

September 20, 2019

A British friend of mine is a professor in the music department of a New Zealand university. We met up earlier this year during one of his occasional research trips to Okinawa. Inevitably the talk turned to music and to some of the artists from these islands. Among those discussed were Nenes, the four women who caused a sensation when they arrived on the Okinawan music scene some years ago.

I hadn’t listened to the earlier Nenes albums for quite a while, so our conversation prompted me to return to the work of these four remarkable women. It was immediately a bit of a surprise to realise that next year, in 2020, it will be a whopping 30 years since the formation of the original band.

How the time flies (and other platitudes). It doesn’t seem all that long ago that I had another of my Okinawan music revelations when I saw the original Nenes for the first time at a packed all-standing Banana Hall in Osaka. I had been to this venue many times, but it was a big crush that night and I even gave up an attempt to get to the bar for another beer (previously unheard of!) as it was more like a football crowd than a concert audience.

Nenes: Yasuko, Yukino, Misako, Namiko

Nenes were superb that evening and were so again on the subsequent occasions I saw them. Shortly after the release of their second album I met up with members Misako Koja and Yasuko Yoshida for an interview before another great concert in Osaka, this time at Club Quattro. And lest we forget, the other members of that sublime original line-up were Namiko Miyazato and Yukino Hiyane.

From 1990 until the end of the decade the four made some wonderful music, not just in live performance but with some excellent recordings. They released eight studio albums during that decade, including the Koza compilation and then a final live album Okinawa subtitled (rather morbidly) Memorial Nenes. The one change of personnel occurred when Misako Koja left to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Eriko Touma for the last two of these albums.

Two more compilations arrived in 2002 and then a double retrospective Golden Best in 2004 on Sony, so there is still plenty out there to interest anyone yet to discover their legacy. And I haven’t even mentioned Sadao China, the man who put them together, acted as mentor, produced their albums and wrote many of the songs. He also created the Okinawan language version of Bob Marley’s ‘No Woman, No Cry’ that became one of their trademark songs in live shows.

It was thrilling to see Nenes at their peak especially when they played with backing musicians rather than pre-recorded tracks. They produced a hybrid sound combining Okinawan traditional songs, modern shimauta, and global pop with hints of Indonesia, Hawaii and Brazil. Usually the four sang in unison while each member occasionally took turns with the lead vocal.

They announced themselves on the cover of their third album Ashibi as an ‘International Uchina Pop Group’ but could sing straightforward Okinawan minyo too as they showed on their fifth album Narabi where the guests included Seijin Noborikawa and Tetsuhiro Daiku. It was a relatively stripped back Nenes after the glorious excess (and success) of its immediate predecessor Koza Dabasa recorded in Los Angeles with Ry Cooder, David Hidalgo and other American musicians.

Of course, the individual members were mostly established already as solo singers before Sadao China came along. Traditional Okinawan song remained their first love and Yasuko Yoshida once told me that, however big the sound was when they played on stage with the full backing band, it was always minyo she was listening to in her head.

They were not the first either, as Four Sisters (who, unlike Nenes, were real sisters) preceded them by many years. But while Four Sisters were committed to traditional Okinawan songs, Nenes pushed things into much more diverse territory. It’s a bit like Bob Dylan taking inspiration from Woody Guthrie but ultimately surpassing his idol to take his music in many new directions. At least Nenes didn’t get booed for going electric.

As ‘any fule kno’, Nenes didn’t finish after that live memorial show and album. New reincarnations continue to appear to this day as Frankenstein China still tinkers with different formations. Most recently they have become a trio. All the members of the ever-changing younger line-ups have been fine singers and Mayuko Higa – now a solo artist – is a favourite of mine. However, it’s better that I don’t go on about China’s inability to move with the times: just read my reviews of the last two or three albums to get the idea.

It was great to meet up with Henry (that’s my friend in New Zealand) and to talk again about music. While I’m just an enthusiast, he really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to musical theory and it’s always good to pick his brains. More importantly he reminded me of those halcyon days when Nenes ruled Okinawa.

Rinsho Kadekaru: Maruteru Recordings

September 18, 2019

It’s already five years since the appearance of the last batch of Rinsho Kadekaru recordings. Now here comes another album of recordings from the studio collected and released for the first time on CD. Maruteru Recordings is also subtitled in Japanese as Shimauta Ogonjidai no Kadekaru Rinsho.

Many previous dips into the vaults have focused on Kadekaru’s work in the 1970s but this one goes back a bit further and the songs here were recorded in the 1960s when the singer was in his forties. Despite this he still sounds the same as always. Not so Misako Oshiro who sounds very young indeed. She joins him on five songs.

The album offers a generous slice of Kadekaru who, it almost goes without saying, does not disappoint in the least. It shows again why 20 years after his death he is still revered as arguably the finest interpreter of Okinawan traditional songs and is the singer and sanshin player most looked up to as an example of the very best of the first generation of Okinawan recording artists.

The recordings were made before he was taken up by journalist and music promoter Rou Takenaka and introduced to mainland Japan where he became very well-known. Until then it had been other singers, especially Shouei Kina, who were more popular back home in Okinawa.

On these tracks he is on his own with his sanshin for most of the time though occasionally accompanied by taiko. As well as the five songs with Misako Oshiro, he is joined by Keiko Higa for ‘Mue Guwa Bushi’ and by Setsuko Uezu on ‘Magukuru nu Hana’. There are 18 tracks and a total of 75 minutes playing time. The CD booklet has extensive notes in Japanese and lyrics of all the songs. The cover shows a photo of Kadekaru unwisely puffing on a cigarette alongside Rinsuke Teruya whose family owned and ran the Maruteru record company.

This is another important piece of Okinawan music history and yet another addition to the continually growing catalogue of Rinsho Kadekaru recordings.

Maruteru Recordings is released by Disc Akabana / Terurin Records.

Mitsuaki Iwago’s World Cats Travelogue

September 5, 2019

Mitsuaki Iwago’s photo exhibition, Neko, came to Okinawa two years ago and I wrote about it at the time. It was a wonderfully rewarding show for anyone with a love of cats or an interest in photography. Starting tomorrow, the same photographer returns with a new exhibition at the Urasoe Art Museum featuring cats from around the world.

Iwago was born in Tokyo in 1950 and is a renowned wildlife photographer and filmmaker. He has a special relationship with our feline friends and has travelled all over the world to capture images of them in a long career stretching back more than 40 years. He will be attending the exhibition in person on Saturday (7th).

Mitsuaki Iwago’s World Cats Travelogue is sure to be worth a visit. The exhibition opens on 6th September and runs until 27th October. Full details are on the museum’s website.

http://museum.city.urasoe.lg.jp/