The One about Discovering Japanese Music: Hitomi Shimatani’s “Otoko Uta – Cover Song Collection”

Sometimes you just want to go back to your music collection and find music you just are in the mood for.

And you know that you start to feel old when artists you enjoyed immensely start to receive the cover treatment. But fortunately, in this case, the cover songs featured on “Otoko Uta – Cover Song collection~”, the 2007 album from Shimatani Hitomi turns out to be a beautiful and whimsical nostalgic road but also beautiful renditions from the singer.

The album is pretty much a cover of popular music (a lot of ballads) that spans from the 1960’s up to 2004 and features a beautiful, whimsical, melodic version spin on songs by a male artist or band and given a beautiful spin to it that Shimatani Hitomi does so well.

For those familiar with Shimatani Hitomi’s music, in the past couple of years, we have gotten a little bit of everything from her. Latin, Spanish, rock, symphonic, orchestral… a variety of different styles that she has incorporated into her music but for “Otoko Uta”, Shimatani manages to take popular ballads and makes it her own and successfully pulls it off.

In a way, some may look at this cover album almost as similar to Natalie Cole’s cover album by incorporating a whimsical, orchestral balance that made her “Unforgettable” album, a big hit. This album obviously is not just targeting towards the younger demographic, this is going for the individuals who loved these hits in the 80’s and 90’s and not redoing the songs in a similar manner, but to give it almost a livehouse, whimsical and at times orchestral balance and that is what is the true strength of “Otoko Uta” and her cover versions.

But what caught my attention was the choices of music that was selected for this album. The songs featured are chart topping ballads.

The first track is Shimatani’s cover of Anzen Chitai’s “Kanashimi ni Sayounara” is a blast from the past, especially for those in the US, who remember the anime “Maison Ikkoku” was a major hit in the 80’s. A very livehouse style of feel with the acoustic guitar and soprano sax.
The second track “Koishikute” is a cover from the band BEGIN. I can remember hearing this song over and over in the early 90’s, as the band would play this song at a beach and just thinking of how awesome a ballad the song is. And Shimatani manages to do the song justice with her beautiful vocals and I absolutely love the arrangement. Love how the wood bass, strings and everything just balances together with the main music.

The third track “Rainy Blue” was a big hit in the 80’s by Tokunaga Hideaki. Tokunaga is having a bit of a revival with his “VOCALIST” albums which have been chart topping albums in the past two or three months now and Tokunaga alone has been a major crooner in the 80’s and 90’s and great to see a cover by Shimatani on this album. The song utilizes the acoustic guitar, violin, keyboard and other instruments.

The fourth track “ESCAPE” was a big hit for MOON CHILD. The song was used for the NTV drama “FIVE” and the song was a #1 hit CD single for the group. Also, the significance of this song and MOON CHILD is that it was Avex’s first rock band and #1 CD single from a rock band on their label back in 1997. Shimatani’s version is upbeat and has a similar (but different) jazz/rock feel to it.

The fifth track “CANDY” is by Harada Shinji who I called the Billy Joel of Japan during the 70’s and 80’s. The song often sung by Harada solo on an acoustic guitar gets the jazzified and strings version by Shimatani.

The sixth track “Tsuki no Urade Ai Mashou” by Original Love is another interesting selection. Shimatani’s version starts off with a choir and organ, almost like a church cathedral version which then transitions to the piano and her beautiful voice.

The seventh track “Another Orion” is one of my favorite ballads (among the many) from Fujii Fumiya which came out back in 1996. Shimatani’s version incorporates a harp instead of an acoustic guitar, oboe and strings. I love the orchestral style of it. Very beautiful cover!

The eighth track “Hatsukoi” by Murashita Kouzou is a song that many guys like to do a cover on their acoustic guitar and actually has received the cover treatment in late 2007 by ACID BLACK CHERRY and Shimatani Hitomi.

The ninth track “One more time, One more chance” by Yamazaki Masayoshi was such a big hit back in 1997. Shimatani’s version incorporates an orchestral version primarily strings and piano.

The tenth track “Shiawase na Ketsumatsu” by Ohtaki Eiichi is a song that was so popular in 1997 because of the drama “Love Generation” starring Kimura Takuya and Matsu Takako. The song received so much play on television and you really couldn’t escape it. It was a bit hit and the only track that is different from other tracks as it incorporates almost of a breezy, bossa nova style to it and the usage of strings and the flute.

The eleventh track “Kotoba ni Dekinai” is a song by Oda Kazumasa and one of his top hits that also incorporates something different on Shimatani’s version compared to her other whimsical cover songs by incorporating an R&B style beat.

The twelve track is “Kanade” by Sukima Switch and the only recent song on the album (the song was released in 2004). A very beautiful ballad/spin from Shimatani and is more of a contemporary sounding ballad than other tracks on the album.

The CD only version comes with a thirteenth track titled “Amairo no Kami no Otome” originally from the Village Singers from 1966 and was released as a CD single back in 2002 by Shimatani. The song is not included on the CD version of the CD+DVD version but can be found on the DVD.

As for the DVD, the 50-minute DVD features Shimatani and her band performing the songs in the studio. Various cameras located around the studio focusing on Shimatani and various musicians performing the songs on the album in their entirety.

About three short off shots are featured throughout the performance with Shimatani talking during the break between performances.

The final minutes on the DVD features a brief interview with Shimatani after the recording is complete.

The CD booklet insert for the album features the lyrics of the album, the musicians and cast credits for the DVD and photos of Shimatani Hitomi. Also, a flyer promoting her CD single “Ai no Uta” and her Live DVD “LIVE 2007 -PRIMA ROSA-“.

Some cover albums in my opinion tend to include obscure songs that Japanese listeners have no idea who the originals are from. With Shimatani Hitomi’s “Otoko Uta ~Cover Song Collection~”, nearly every song featured is a classic or chart topping hit.

I brought up the Natalie Cole reference earlier because with this album, Shimatani goes for the fans that are familiar with the songs but also to target a demographic that loves jazz or orchestral music. Because I listen to a lot of opera, classical and classic hits that utilize that big band and the live house feel, this album was refreshing and again, another release from Shimatani that one probably never expected and yet again, trying something different.

I know that many people who are not familiar to the songs covered on the album or even the music used, may feel differently about the album and may question, why she has gone for a cover album.

So, far we have had seen a few women from the Avex Group with cover albums. With Tomoko Van (of Do As Infinity) and Lisa Ono release cover albums, each had their own distinct styles and I felt that Shimatani did a great job on this album.

The music on this album has an orchestral, jazz and somewhat of a live house feel. Nearly all the tracks on the album has its unique spin on the classics but I feel that Shimatani managed it well and what you get is a whimsical and beautiful rendition of those classic hits.

In my opinion, if you enjoy Shimatani’s music and you love those classic hits, you probably will enjoy this album.

Check it out!


 

Dennis A. Amith