Perhaps more than any other musician of her generation, Japanese singer-songwriter Saho Terao has pursued the perfect “song”. In the 16 years since her debut album, Terao has made songs ranging from Joni-mitchell inspired folk ballads to pop renditions of traditional Japanese lullabies. Saho Terao’s ninth original studio album, Kita e Mukau (Going North) is a celebration of her history, but sounds fresh from beginning to end.
The diverse cast of supporting musicians should be familiar to fans of Terao, with musicians such as Reizaburo Adachi (ds, sax.), Wataru Iga (b.) (who form the three piece band Fuyu ni Wakarete along with Terao), Shuta Hasunuma (arr.), U-zhaan (Tabla), Mahito The People (gt.), Wakana Ikeda (fl.), and more appearing on the record. Although Terao’s soothing voice and piano playing form the basis of each of the songs, the arrangements are at times times fun and upbeat, at times bordering on avant-garde, and at times so beautiful that you’ll find yourself teary-eyed.
At first listen, the relaxed atmosphere and laid back beat of title track “Kita e Mukau” (“Going North”), devoted to Terao’s late father, makes it feel like a song perfect for a cloudy day. But repeated listens reveal the kind of stirring allegories that other words can’t do justice. The emotional power imbued in the song is concealed at first glance by a modern arrangement, but careful listeners will be rewarded with an emotional gut punch of a song.
“Asadoya Yunta” is a folk song from the islands of Okinawa that’s been covered extensively, including versions by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yuta Orisaka, and Haruomi Hosono. But where the YMO members turn the tune into tropical electronica, and Orisaka turns it on its head with his psych folk interpretation, Terao keeps it simple. Perhaps it’s her extensive experience covering traditional folk songs in her Favorite Children’s Songs series, but Terao’s sparse piano accompaniment highlights the beautiful melody and her own voice. Despite the plethora of covers by some of Japan’s best musicians, Terao succeeds in making the song her own, while somehow keeping to its folkloric roots.
But perhaps the best example of Terao’s musicianship is in the album closer, “Yumagure (electric guitar version)”. The song was originally included on Ai no Himitsu (2009), and it’s a shining example of contemporary folk. Played over a simple piano arrangement, the song received high praise for its use of everyday imagery (“At twilight, I’ll gaze at the blurry moon”). But over a decade after its initial recording, Terao revisited the song, enlisting the help of Gezan’s Mahito the People on guitar. Mahito’s playing is delicate, coiling and intermingling with the melody and piano, and making expert use of reverb to create an atmosphere altogether different from the original.
What Kita e Mukau accomplishes may not be the perfect “song”, but it unifies the often disparate parts of Terao’s discography into one cohesive project. Pressed on black wax, this record from one of Japan’s foremost singer-songwriters is sure to be one of the essential releases of 2023.
- Limited First Edition Pressing
- Long awaited analog release of ninth studio album
- Pressed on black vinyl
- Fun Fact - She is the daughter of Jiro Terao from Sugar Babe
Pre-Order - Expected to Ship August, 2023
- Going North
- Ichiwa ga NIwani
- Yakurai Yuki
- Kimiwa Watashino Tomodachi
- Sora to Umi
- Kokorono Mamani
- Yuumagure (Electric Guitar Version)