Okinawa Americana: Tachi

It’s already three years since Okinawa Americana’s Merry and David Ralston unleashed their own special concoction of American blues and Okinawan traditional music on us with the release of their self-titled debut album. Now they are back again with a second album Tachi (which means ‘two’ in Okinawan).

As a straightforward duo, their live performances have impressed by blending two different musical cultures and with the interplay of voices, sanshin, and guitar. Their first recording went for a bigger sound with the addition of a rock rhythm section and Tachi goes even further in that direction. In fact, the new album comes out with all guns blazing on the opener ‘Blues Come Knocking’ and continues in similar vein throughout.

This might be bad news for those who have been thrilled by their stripped back acoustic style. Instead we should perhaps be grateful that there are these two complementary versions of Okinawa Americana. The evidence here shows that the bigger, louder version, with the pair joined by other musicians, is getting better all the time.

One of the keys to the success of Tachi is the choice of compositions. As before, there’s a roughly equal mix of American blues and Okinawan songs, with the non-Okinawan ones co-written by David Ralston. Frequently, the two styles of music come together in the same song and coalesce around the increasingly familiar but hugely effective idea of the two singers alternating English and Okinawan/Japanese vocals and tunes.

This time they also branch out on their own with two songs featuring just one of the singers. David’s is ‘Find Something New’ a big emotional ballad with strings that still retains Asian elements, while Merry is let loose on the beguiling ‘Anchurasa’ on which she plays ukulele.

The album shines most on some of the Okinawan songs. The Miyako dance tune ‘Kuicha’ (with a backing vocal by Kanako Hatoma) drives along with renewed purpose. ‘Kudaka/Nail It’ combines Merry’s strong singing with a new part in English, and ‘Iwai Bushi’ follows the same pattern.

‘That’s the Blues’ reverses the process with David taking the lead and Merry joining in. Best of all is ‘Chimuganasa’, a popular shimauta most associated with Aiko Yohen. It comes to life here in a new arrangement with slide guitar and some Latin American touches that are the kind of thing that Nenes used to do so well.

Ultimately, this is a record that surpasses its predecessor. The singing and playing fit together even better than before, and it sounds as if it was a lot of fun to make. It rocks, not least because Merry and David Ralston have an obvious respect for each other’s music and culture and are able to create such exciting results.

Tachi was recorded in Nashville, Los Angeles, and Okinawa. It was produced by Okinawa Americana and Rich Mahan. The album is out now and is self-released.

Explore posts in the same categories: Okinawan Albums

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