Yuko Ando

The Best 03-09

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There are plenty of piano-favoring Japanese singer/songwriters playing polite, attractive, movie-oriented music, and so Yuko Ando deserves credit for making her way on this scene; however, her best-of collection demonstrates that during 2003-2009 she remained an also-ran, although she's certainly not without her moments. Ando's style is basically similar to Angela Aki's or Chihiro Onitsuka's: the vocals are in the forefront, backed mainly by simple and very melodic piano arrangements; there's a rhythm section and a lot of small synth and string touches, too, but only as an afterthought. A couple of more rocking numbers are included, but generally dynamics are sacrificed for the sake of building the mood, which is sweet, positive, and romantic throughout. This may sound like a good recipe, but Ando is no Katie Melua getting away with simplistic sentimentality. Her singing is competent, but not extraordinary -- Ando can hold the melody and hit the high notes, but her voice is not strong or special enough to leave a deep impression -- and the songs simply have no hooks. This is obviously intentional, the idea being to create a sunny ambience to bask in, rather than to concentrate on, but in practice this turns out to be background music; it could probably work very well as a movie soundtrack, but without the pictures there's simply not enough content within the songs to hold the attention. A couple of tunes, such as "Sally" or "Seija no Koushin," show that Ando can, in fact, produce something genuinely catchy within her chosen format, but for the most part, the potential goes unrealized, and The Best 03-09 remains nothing more than a nice collection of Japanese piano-pop Muzak.