Archive for December, 2013

ALBUM REVIEW: Yes by Mika Nakashima (2007)

December 31, 2013

Tracklist

1. I Love You (Album Version – Yutaka Ozaki Cover)
2. Mienai Hoshi (Invisible Star)
3. Sunao na Mama (The Honest State)
4. Cry No More (Ending Theme from Anime Series Blood+)
5. All Hands Together (with Allan Toussaint and Cyril Neville)
6. Dance with the Devil
7. Black & Blue
8. Joy
9. The Dividing Line
10. My Sugar Cat
11. Yogoreta Hana
12. Going Back Home
13. Kinenka
14. What a Wonderful World (Louis Armstrong Cover)

In my review of The End, I stated that the otherwise talented Mika Nakashima’s vocals weren’t suited to some of the songs. Yes is an album that brings Mika back to the kind of musical genres at which she excels, but with tinges of blues, gospel, and even country thrown into the mix.

The first two songs are slow, melancholic love songs that set the stage for what the rest of this album sounds like. “I Love You” is a remake of the late Yutaka Ozaki’s 1991 hit single, and while it doesn’t beat the original, Mika’s performance is solid, and the change in arrangement from techno-classical on the single for “Mienai Hoshi” to a dreamy blues song on here is well crafted. “Mienai Hoshi” itself is an ending theme for a TV drama series; although it bears some similarities to Mika’s own “Will” and John Lennon’s “Imagine,” it’s an example of the type of song to which Nakashima is definitely no stranger. Both of these songs are filled out graciously by background vocals that provide a Kirk Franklin-like ambience to the arrangements and get this album off to a good start.

“Sunao na Mama” was marketed as a “hip-hop” song, and its single was released on the same day this album was, but it’s actually a dreamy downtempo pop song with Motown stylings (listen for the brass, strings, and especially the guitar solo at the end). “Cry No More,” which follows, was the first single made for this album, and it’s just fabulous.

“All Hands Together” was produced specifically for the victims of Hurricane Katrina (which wiped out New Orleans in 2005), and it features special guests such as Allen Toussaint and more importantly Cyril Neville of the Neville Brothers. It starts with a strong middle-range voocalization from Mika, before leading out into a midtempo gospel track with a whole truckload of Latin percussion instruments, strong background vocals (a gospel choir is heard most prominently in the refrain), and clapping beats thrown in. A lot of people told me that this track sucked, but when I first heard it, I was like: “WHOA!” As for “Dance with the Devil,” it shifts gears to a cute rock-and-roll style with a driving rhythm and unforced vocals from Mika herself.

“Black & Blue” is a very funky ragtime jazz song, while “Joy” slows down the tempo from there on in with a lovely piano backup and Mika giving another fine vocal performance on both songs. “The Dividing Line” has a wonderful melody and a great arrangement (piano, drums, bass, etc.). I particularly liked the end stanzas of “Everywhere is yes/Everything is yes…”

However, what would a Mika album be like without a little variety? That’s where the charming “My Sugar Cat” comes in, and it brings a lavish vintage Caribbean sound to the album. The opening flute lines give the song a flippant yet delicate touch. Then comes “Yogoreta Hana,” which marks one of only two times that Mika-san has ever attempted a country song. It’s done in a contemporary country-waltz sound, sort of like Shania Twain, somewhat. Meanwhile, “Going Back Home” is a more traditional country tune with a pretty harmonica solo.

“Kinenka” briefly returns to the bluesy sound but is by far the only song I don’t care for very much on here. Thankfully, Yes goes out on a high note with a gorgeous – “though I admit somewhat poignant” – rendition of Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World.” The piano is the primary mood-setter on the last track.

PROS: Fascinating songs and arrangements!

CONS: Good as it is, “All Hands Together” might not win everyone over on the first listen.

BOTTOM LINE: All in all, a well-done recording of songs that define Mika as a risk-taker in her own right.

Overall Score: 9/10

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ALBUM REVIEW: The End by Mika Nakashima (2006)

December 30, 2013

Photo coming soon…

This is my first review in quite a while, but I intend to do more in the future (including albums by artists such as Andrea Bocelli and Emily Bear). This 2006 album is the subject of this review.

Tracklist:

1. Hitoiro (One Color)
2. Eyes for the Moon
3. Glamorous Sky
4. Blowing Out
5. My Medicine
6. Neglest Mind
7. Real World
8. Isolation
9. Blood
10. Hitoiro (ALTAnative)
11. My Way (Claude Francois Cover – Sid Vicious Version)

This album marked Mika Nakashima’s only time ever releasing an album under the name “NANA Starring Mika Nakashima,” pertaining to her work in the two NANA movies. This time around, I won’t go into a blow-by-blow description of each song like I usually do, but give you the gist of what the album as a whole sounds like.

The first two songs were released in 2006 for the NANA 2 motion picture, and follow identical moods, except “Hitoiro,” the second and last single released for this disc, is a little more melancholy than “Eyes for the Moon,” its B-side. The former utilizes tubular bells, flutes, and violins to create an interesting symphonic rock sound, while the latter is more straightforward alternative rock in a way.

“Glamorous Sky,” the theme from the original NANA film, is absolutely brilliant. It begins with subdued vocals by Mika and a buildup in the electric guitar track before segueing into a full-fledged upbeat rock song without drowning out her voice. “Blowing Out” has its moments, but seems more dependent on a slower tempo than almost all the other songs on here. Not bad, though.

“My Medicine” is one of two English songs featured here. It falls along the lines of something the Ramones might’ve normally produced (remember “I Wanna Be Sedated?”). Mika doesn’t go over the top, although the screeching electric guitar solo seems bent on swamping her otherwise noticeable vocal nuances. The next two songs, “Neglest Mind” and “Real World,” are at their best straightforward songs that remind me of tunes such as Paramore’s “The Only Exception.”

“Isolation” is an interesting midtempo grunge song, kind of like Gwen Stefani and her band No Doubt used to do even before she went solo. As for “Blood,” it’s highly enjoyable, what with its driving drum rhythms and soaring refrain. What follows that track is a punk version of “Hitoiro,” but that version is pathetic; stick to the original version.

“My Way” is an old favorite that has been remade by too many artists to mention since Claude Francois first recorded it as “Comme d’h (more…)