How was the 1960’s folk revival viewed far away in Japan? Few would have cared to pose such a question, but indie label Light in the Attic did and the result is an extremely well researched and beautifully presented package that introduces the listener/reader to a whole new world of sounds, and one where the instrumentation may be familiar, but the voices and names most certainly are not. Japanese society was undergoing major transformation in the 1960’s and this was reflected in a generational split with the younger generation questioning the objectives and values of a more traditional society of their elders. Into this, the ‘ungara’ or underground movement emerged and younger musicians were able to establish their credentials which is this is where this anthology scores highly for capturing that five year moment in time so well.
Drawing upon the expertise of four compilers including native Japanese musicologist Yosuke Kitazawa, this compilation has been lovingly produced and illustrated. It focuses attention on the key locations where folk music flourished, both in Tokyo with the satellite district of Shibuya, and equally, other cities such as Kobe, Kyoto and Osaka where key musicians developed.
A major discovery to this writer is a group by the name of Happy End who contribute, ‘Hatsu nau desu’, and it is the pared down minimalism of the instrumentation and lovely rhythm guitar allied with fine harmonies that make this band one to look out for, and they will not be unfamiliar to western ears since their music featured on the film soundtrack to, ‘Lost in translation’. A separate anthology of the band’s work would be an ideal follow up. Another group of interest, and a near equivalent to say Crosby, Stills and Nash with hints of Simon and Garfunkel, are Gypsy Blood, and this Kobe based group offer up from 1972, ‘Sugishi hi wo mitsumete’, and this has a lovely US West Coast feel. If Japan had a rough equivalent to Donovan, then it might just be Takuro Yoshida and he was a Hiroshima-born singer who became a figurehead for the mainstream Japanese folk scene. Here he is accompanied by just guitar on, ‘Aoi natsu’. Originally an obscure album track from 1973, some twenty-six years later, the song gained notoriety when released as a the theme song for a popular ghost film series.
The Japanese enjoy a special relationship with nature which has added symbolic meaning and thus it is the sound of cascading water that greets the listener on Fumio Nunoya’s ‘Mizu tamarai’, and Nunoya is a singer with a throaty delivery more akin to that of a blues singer. Dylan devotees will the thrilled to learn that he is revered in Japan where of course he recorded the seminal ‘Live at Budokan’ double album, and the Dylan II group released an album of re-interpretations of the singer in Japanese of which ‘I shall be released’ is given a makeover. Not an obvious cover, this takes a few listens to truly sink in and the far more restrained reading here is devoid of the gospel roots of the original save for the piano.
To top off an outstanding introduction to Japanese folk music, the lavish inner sleeve contains English language translations of the lyrics so that you can actually take in what the musicians are communicating and that makes the experience infinitely more enjoyable. Light in the Attic are setting an extremely high benchmark against which other labels will be measured. A contender for roots compilation of the year.