NeoBallad - 04 ~Kotobuki~

review - 11.08.2017 10:01

The duo’s fourth album offers an entertaining cross-section of folksy songs.

The duo NeoBallad specialize in collecting folksy songs from all over Japan and blending them with modern pop music. For their fourth full-length release, 04 ~Kotobuki~, the duo once again chose songs from various regions and provided them with new arrangements by drummer and composer Kamiryo Wataru. JaME now takes a closer listen to its ten tracks.

04 ~Kotobuki~ starts with the unusually poppy number Tairyo utai komi ~Saitara bushi~, which hails from Miyagi. This song, which features lyrics written by Wakasa Sachi, joins her strong vocals with powerful bass and drums as well as a rousing but also dark-sounding disco beat. Sawauchi jinku offers various modern pop elements as well, but they are not as dominant or fast-paced when compared to the first track. In fact, the song possesses a calm, dreamy note that gives you the impression that the piece has been played at many summer festivals in the past. Even the arrangements with the electric guitar, which come into play somewhere in the middle, harmonize well and support the light-hearted character of the song from Iwate.

It is followed by Sanjyo tako bayashi from Niigata, a track where Sachi adds some rap-like vocals to the fast tsugaru shamisen beat. The pop influences, shamisen, a flute and the individual dull-sounding rhythm create an exciting and thoroughly entertaining piece, with occasional mysterious elements. The "Kotobuki Version" of Aizu Bandai san, a song originating from Fukushima, is more esoteric but keeps its festive character. In the background, the song is accompanied by a soft, bright synthesizer beat but the drums, tsugaru shamisen and flute are more dominant.

Next is Itako ayame odori, a mysterious piece from Ibaraki that is carried mostly through a shamisen, Sachi's vocals and a calm melody for its first half. After that, a guitar and drums join in, altering the calm and mysterious tone and also increasing the pace. Fukuoka’s Kuroda bushi also begins with a very mystical sound and is accompanied once more by tsugaru shamisen and Sachi's sensitive vocals. The lyrics of Kuroda bushi may also remind you a little of the children's rhyme "kagome kagome". Next to the esoteric synthesizer chords, you also hear some sort of harp and a flute, which add a magical touch to the track.

The pace increases noticeably with Nagasaki nonnoko bushi. Nevertheless, you still get the feeling of being present at a traditional Japanese festival due to the light-hearted and mysterious arrangement and rhythm. It is followed by Chichibu ondo from Saitama, a cheerful folk song where the drums have a bigger presence. The subsequent track, Toyama’s Ecchu owara bushi, is very calm and ballad-like. The tranquil piece is only accompanied by synthesizers, a shamisen, piano and hayashi (the musical company at kabuki or Noh theatre) and Sachi's sensitive vocals. The last folk song on 04 ~Kotobuki~ is Yamagata daikoku mai, which develops into a rousing danceable track after a calm start. The fast rhythm from the drums and tsugaru shamisen is ennobled with trumpet sounds and an electric guitar. Due to that, the song becomes tremendously entertaining and the four minutes are over in no time.

At first glance, NeoBallad's 04 ~Kotobuki~ may only seem interesting for fans of traditional songs and enka. However, the use of modern pop elements is particularly noticeable in the first third of the album and supports it in an imposing way. In the second and final third, on the other hand, the traditional musical character of the folk songs prevails. Fans of modern pop music should also definitely give NeoBallad a chance, and this album is a great place to start. Recommended tracks include Kuroda bushi, Tairyo utai komi ~Saitara bushi~, Sanjyo tako bayashi and Yamagata daikoku mai.

The music video for the original version of Aizu Bandai san can be viewed below:

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