After a series of taiko-related albums for ARC, Joji Hirota here presents a collection of traditional folk songs. They range from fishing songs to babysitter lullabies, largely from the Edo period, prior to the influences of Western music on Japanese forms. The album opens simply enough with a very nice vocal outpouring, mixed with a surprising element -- a Western classical ensemble aiding Hirota's efforts. Even more surprising given the intentional avoidance of Western influences is the choice of musical selections. Four variations of a traditional song related to the enjoyment of the cherry blossom blooms are presented next, based themselves in part on the same source material as Madam Butterfly. A small children's chorus is added in for a medley of kids songs (surprisingly mournful), and a more contemporary composition from the blind composer Michio Miyagi. The songs bounce around a bit more, from traditional rice-harvest songs to original compositions from Hirota. When Hirota is let loose on an instrument, he tends to shine -- his shakuhachi is excellent, his vocals are mournful. The inevitable mix with Western instrumentation tends to dampen the mood, however, everything here comes across as sad and tired, and most of all, Western, operatic almost. Hirota has produced some other albums, which may be of more immediate interest to listeners looking for their first taste of Japanese folk music. This album has its merits, but they are more difficult to extract. For crossover appeal, though, there are perhaps other artists who would be better choices.
Japanese Folk Songs Review
by Adam Greenberg