Ken Hirai

Ken's Bar

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In 1998, not yet pop star Ken Hirai started doing shows wherein he'd eschew the pop he normally crafted in favor of lounge-style singing of music that he happened to enjoy or gain influence from. In 2003, he recorded his first compilation of this music, taking liberally from American vocal music. Since that early album, Hirai showed himself to be capable of surprising pop composition and a deep repertoire of vocal techniques and range. Here, the listener gets a chance to pick up more of Hirai's sensitivity to a song. With the music already written, Hirai takes the opportunity to arrange the songs as light acoustic pieces with only quiet warbling over the top. He hits songs popularized by Norah Jones ("Don't Know Why"), pieces from Carole King and James Taylor ("You've Got a Friend"), and an outstandingly funky acoustic version of George Michael's "Faith." The key to these pieces isn't necessarily in Hirai's vocals -- though they're well formed, they had a tendency toward thinness in some of these earlier recordings, depending on the song. He could pull a fair falsetto in an attempt to cover Minnie Riperton, but his real abilities lie in a slightly lower register and, moreover, in the instrumental forms and arrangements. There's not quite enough of Ken Hirai to really make "What a Wonderful World" vibrate the way it needs to, but there's plenty of him to retain the fun aspects of the Jackson 5's "ABC." Maybe even more importantly, Hirai takes care of English lyrics with enunciations rare for Japanese covers. If you've only heard his more recent electronic-related recordings, Ken's Bar should be both revelatory and welcome.

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