CMT Crossroads Taylor Swift & Def Leppard (1998) / RED Taylor Swift (2012)

Once fine day, I saw a video clip posted by one of the Google+ users featuring Taylor Swift and Def Leppard performing Hysteria.  That electrifying performance is tantalizing in so many different ways.  First, as a huge fan of Def Leppard, to be able to see them perform live at this age, I mean, these guys still have it.  They still rock.  Later on, I read that Taylor Swift did this Crossroads collaboration partly because her mother is a big fan of Def Lepard.  That is kind of sweet of her.  Second, as you may have already known, I am a mega fan of Taylor Swift.  I am keen to see what the outcome of this collaboration would be, between a classic band like Def Leppard and a successful young female artist Taylor Swift one generation apart whereby the only commonality is the pop genre.

The main presentation has a total of eight songs.  Four tracks are from Def Lappard namely Photograph, Hysteria, When Love & Hate Collide, and Pour Some Sugar on Me.  Another four are Taylor Swift’s Picture to Burn, Love Story, Teardrops on My Guitar, and Should’ve Said No.  In addition, as bonus materials, there are three more tracks: Love, Our Song, and the all acoustic Two steps behind.

All the songs are nicely done.  Joe Elliott and Taylor Swift duet on each other’s songs.  Two bands are merged, very much like jamming on stage.  While I love all the tracks on this recording, When Love & Hate Collide and Teardrops on My Guitar stand out as my favorite tracks.  Interlaced onto the live performance is a set of interview that lends insight on the musical journey of both artists.  What a gem this DVD is.

RED

I wasn’t too sure if I would love Taylor Swift’s fourth album RED.  But I have a high level of anticipation nonetheless.  I like her country root.  Over the year, she seems to have spilled over to the pop genre.  When We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together first debuted on Google Hangout, I wasn’t sure what to make out of it.  That song does grow on me over time, like the rest of RED.  One good thing about her experimental journey in collaborating with other artists such as Gary Lightbody of Snow Patrol is that it shows a different side of her.  A sign of growth and maturity, which in turn influences her own production.

My favorite tracks though as the ones written by her in entirety.  As well as All Too Well that is co-written with Liz Rose.  The Liz Rose and Taylor Swift collaboration has produced 16 songs including White Horse, Teardrops on My Guitar, and You Belong with Me.  I am hoping for more like these in the future.

Has anyone managed to crack the codes in her lyrics by picking out all the oddly capitalized letters?  I have tried but have given up.

YUI – How Crazy Your Love

“How Crazy Your Love” is YUI’s fifth studio album.  I am a fan.  Hence you can imagine how painful it was for me to wait till the record hits the store here in Singapore when not too far away, in a place called Hong Kong, the album not only comes with a CD, but also a DVD recording of YUI’s live concert in Hong Kong.  Normally, it takes up to a month for a regional cut Japanese CD to arrive at our stores.  It takes even longer if the album contains video contents.  Having learned my lesson, I ordered online via HMV Hong Kong and have this special edition album (that comes with a YUI printed guitar pick!) delivered.

If you are a fan, the special edition is a must buy.  Her 2011 concert in Hong Kong has a listing of 17 songs plus 5 encores.  That is over 2 hours of entertainment.  Compare to her 2006 “Song of the Sun” concert, she now has more songs and has grown up to be a sweet 24.  Like the previous recording, she plays her guitars on stage.  Shy, she may seem, her live performance has exceeded my expectation.  I cannot wait to see the same concert recorded in Japan.  The DVD is lying somewhere inside my shelf.

It took me a bit of time to like “How Crazy Your Love”.  Perhaps my sensory system has been abused by over-produced music of recent time.  Or perhaps I wanted more rock music from the album or that missing killer slow song.  To be frank, YUI is not a great singer.  But she writes good songs.  So far, her albums are pretty consistent, in terms of style and delivery.  And I am still eagerly awaiting for her next production, which I hope to see later this year.

Back to the album, the more rock flavored “Rain” is my favorite.  The opening track “HELLO” is playful, and it seems to work really well in a live setting.  I also like “Separation”, which is more melody driven especially on the bridge.  I can’t say I love all 13 tracks.  But I can’t find one that I don’t like.  Fans out there.  What are you waiting for?

Anna Tsuchiya – Rule – Coming Out From The Nana Personality

I was so excited about Anna Tsuchiya (土屋アンナ) so much so that when Amazon.co.jp alerted me of her 3rd album, I quickly dived in and made a purchase, when I was holidaying in Hong Kong.  Much cheaper than to buy the imported version in a local music store.  Much faster too.  It takes ages for Japanese albums to appear on the shelf here in Singapore.  I inquired.  And learned that HMV Singapore is of a retail outlet status.  Versus HMV Hong Kong, which is a distributer.  Apparently, if the disc comes with a DVD – which is very common for Japanese music – HMV Singapore has to wait until the distributor distributes.  I was used to blame the censorship board for the delay.  Now I know better.

In her first two albums – Strip Me? and Nudy Show! – Anna Tsuchiya was behind the persona of the famous Japanese anime character Nana.  A punk rocker.  Playing catchy upbeat rock songs.  “Rule” is her first album ventured outside ‘the voice of Nana’.  And it probably comes with no surprise that “Rule” is slightly different from her first two.  Her collaboration with the Japanese jazz instrumental band PE’Z has added one jazz track (“暴食系男子!!”) into her new album.  Then there is a theatrical themed song.  And one song (“Shout In The Rain”) with a sound texture that resembles the American rock bank Evanescence.  That song also reminds me of the style of other Japanese singer Oliver Lufkin (from the same anime).

It took me a little while to get used to her new personality and her expanded music direction.  I am delighted that her music has grown.  The album comes with a DVD that contains 5 music clips.  To be frank, I was hoping that my favorite tracks “Human Clay”, “Guilty”, and the slow song “Voice of Butterfly” would be featured as singles.  They are really catchy.

To showcase one of my favorite videos, here is a slow song called “Believe In Love”.

Anna Tsuchiya – Nudy Show! – Catchy, Very Catchy

As the vocalist behind one of the two bands in the popular Japanese anime series “Nana”, at times I wonder if Anna Tsuchiya has made the anime famous or it is the other way round.  I think it is a bit of both.  Her second album “Nudy Show!” (2008) follows closely with the style of her first album “Strip Me?” (2006).  Catchy rock music, with majority of the songs and lyrics in English.  The direct imported version from Amazon.co.jp comes with translated lyrics in Japanese (?!) and a DVD that contains 7 music videos and other bonus clips.  I did not think that I am capable to order from a Japanese website but I did it.

Two beautiful songs from the Nana anime has made it to this album – “Lucy” and “黒い涙”.  The latter one written in entirely Japanese, which is unusual for Anna Tsuchiya.  What stands out in this entire album besides the catchy tunes is the quality of the band.  The tracks are creatively played.  It is enjoyable to listen to each instrument taking turn to do its solo.  The amount of production is just nice.  Not too highly produced until you cannot tell who is playing what.  Nor too under produced until you feel empty with the gaps and repetitions.  The track “Ginger” stands out to be the most contagious track, a collaboration with the Japanese band Monkey Majik.

Below is my favorite track “黒い涙”.  For those who have watched the Nana series, this song connects to our emotional core.

And if you prefer an upbeat song, check out “Ginger”.  I think “Nudy Show!” has enough materials for Nana had the manga author decided to continue with the series after her hospitalisation.  As for me, I have Anna Tsuchiya’s upcoming album to look forward to (end of September release).

YUI – Holidays In The Sun – A Pleasant Album, Still Same Style

Nowadays, I seldom write about the music I listen to.  Not as often anyway.  With legal and unlimited music download, it matters little if it is a good album, or a bad one.  Because worst case, I delete the album off my digital storage.  On average, I listen to an album once, or twice, and then move onto the next one.

Once in a while, there are still albums that cannot be downloaded.  The charm of opening the case of a new album, savoring the artwork, listening to each track with such an attention and anticipation, all because I have paid twenty bucks for the entire package.  One of my recent purchases is YUI’s fifth album.  YUI tends to release plenty of singles (5 from this album so far) without an album in sight.  Imagine how ecstatic I was when I found her new album in store.

Being a Japanese artist who writes and performs her own songs, it is expected that “Holidays In The Sun” would sound much like her previous albums.  And it does.  In addition to her playing guitar, in this album, she plays the piano too for the opening track “to Mother”.  It is refreshing.  And it is also the only song in the album that features her piano track with no guitar overlay.  I wish that “to Mother” has as much of an impact as her other slow songs from her previous albums such as “Tomorrow’s Way” or “LOVE & TRUTH”.  Hence, on first listen, there seems to be something missing.  Something like a “LOVE & TRUTH” would be nice.  Then again, the overall mood of this album is upbeat.  Memorable upbeat tracks like “es.car” and “I do it” can easily please a live audience.  “Holidays In The Sun”, as a whole, is pleasant to listen to.  Fans would be pleased, for sure.

Her songwriting is not perfect.  At times I think she may have squeezed in one too many syllables into a sentence.  Her singing is not perfect.  At times I think she has gone out of breath trying to deliver what she envisions to deliver.  But what transpires, to me, is her being genuine and sincere and trust that her fans would appreciate the purity within.  I wish I could share a video of hers to demonstrate my last point.  Perhaps the one with her siting near the edge of the stage singing to a concert audience with only her guitar, in candle lights.  Just like how she is used to sneak through the streets, find a quiet spot, and start singing with her guitar to initially nobody and soon a gathering crowd.  Even the music video of her latest single “to Mother” would have proved my point.  The good news is, if you purchase “Holidays In The Sun”, it comes with a DVD that contains 6 music videos, “to Mother” included.

And so, the waiting of her yet another new album continues.  I hope it would take less than 2 years this time.