Thursday, January 5, 2017

Ken Hirai-Ken's Bar (2003)


I had started to continue further with my Euro-house explorations this afternoon, but then I realized what I really wanted was to settle in to some nice peaceful music; the beautiful white Winter Wonderland scene outside of my bedroom window had a lot to do with that. I then remembered an album that I began listening to yesterday: "Ken's Bar", a collection of covers of popular music classics by a Japanese pop singer named Ken Hirai, whom I'd just gotten acquainted with. I'd been more than impressed upon hearing this guy singing on one of his Japanese language albums that I had to hear that same impressive soulful voice further on these old favorites. After a quick scan of this album's fifteen-deep track-listing, the timeless Carole King hit, "You've Got A Friend", jumped out at me. Ended up playing that one first, and just like the countless number of remakes that I've heard in recent months and years in the past, this Ken Hirai version is just a warming and intimate—perhaps even more so with only the acoustic guitar as his backing instrument and the guest female vocalist joining in with him in perfect harmony And as always, 'winter, spring, summer or fall, all you gave to do is call' remains as my favorite line of the song. I'd play it a second time for myself when resuming with the remainder of this album today, though not before my ears enjoyed the other fourteen brilliant moments here. Following the opening instrumental ambiance of Ken walking through the city streets and the pleasant "Even If" instrumental piece, which brought to mind again that 'Charlie Brown Christmas' and the sounds and other holiday imagery associated with it, is Ken's beautiful interpretation of "The Rose", which I had to think about for a minute before I realized that I'd previously heard WESTLIFE's version, then realized that even before the Irish boyband covered it, the song had been performed by the great Bette Midler way back in the late 70's! Then it was like a 'mini-celebration' of sorts—both literally and figuratively—upon realizing that "Lovin' You" was indeed a remake of the timeless Minnie Riperton hit! Had never heard a guy perform this before, which in itself makes it a special occasion. Ken's warming acoustic guitar approach works very well here, though it did take me a moment to get used to him doing that signature 'la-la-la-la-la, doo-doo-doo-doo-doo, ah-ah-ah-ah-ah' part from the chorus where Minnie's elegant voice—and even that of 80's/90's r&b star Shanice Wilson—traditionally reach the upper notes and becomes high and lofty and oh so angelic. Coincidentally, I'd once watched a little girl performing "Lovin' You" on the TV series "Live At The Apollo"; it was at that historic New York City theater where Ken had performed himself, according to biographical notes about his early music career. Then I was in a mini-celebratory mood again when I realized that George Michael's 80's hit, "Faith" was among his selections; I completely missed it during my initial scan of the track-listing! As I once heard somebody say, there was no other song like "Faith" back in my growing-up decade, but Ken performs his upbeat acoustic guitar interpretation with ease, even the '' 'cause I gotta faith, I gotta have faith-uh-faith-uh-faith ' from the memorable chorus. So surreal that I've been hearing so many George Michael covers in the wake of his unexpected passing: "Last Christmas" (THE perennial pop holiday tune), THREE GIRLZZ's "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go", and now Ken Hirai's performing "Faith". Any remake of Louis Armstrong's "What A Wonderful World" is a wonderful listen, even if it's without the full background music accompaniment here. But I was so SUPREMELY impressed with Ken's festively jazzy twist on the Disney classic, "When You Wish Upon A Star"; the soft piano intro deceives you into thinking it'll be a slow-moving ballad before the music suddenly breaks into full swing! And then there's his remake of THE JACKSON FIVE hit, "ABC". He's got both the piano and the guitar going on here—same rhythm, same chord structure, same memorable lyrics—and has the vocals to convince any listener that 'A-B-C' means 'you and me!', as he proudly exclaims at the very end. His skilled piano-playing, in fact, is a musical highlight by itself altogether; it shines on "One Day", it shined on many of the aforementioned previous covers, and it even shines on the "Intermission" segment where it sounds like he's in attendance at a special dinner event. "Ken's Bar" is quite the easy-listening treat, and I myself will be going back up to the bar to pour myself another round or two:

1. Open
2. Even If [Instrumental]
3. The Rose
4. One Day
5. Lovin' You
6. What A Wonderful World
7. You've Got A Friend
8. Intermission
9. 大きな古時計 [Ken's Bar version]
10. Faith
11. When You Wish Upon A Star
12. ABC
13. Don't Know Why
14. Close
15. 見上げてごらん夜の星を

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