Nao Yoshioka - The Light (2015)

Nao Yoshioka
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If you listen to this thing called soul music long enough, you will hear or see something that is rarely if ever seen. The vision usually entails a vocalist or group with no historical or geographical connection to people who created this music, but who still manage to be a good soul singer. This sight can be inspiring or disconcerting. Hearing a vocalist such as the Japanese born Nao Yoshioka perform classic R&B and soul tunes such as “Feeling Good,” as she does on her new CD The Light, is a reminder of soul music’s world wide impact.

If you listen to this thing called soul music long enough, you will hear or see something that is rarely if ever seen. The vision usually entails a vocalist or group with no historical or geographical connection to people who created this music, but who still manage to be a good soul singer. This sight can be inspiring or disconcerting. Hearing a vocalist such as the Japanese born Nao Yoshioka perform classic R&B and soul tunes such as “Feeling Good,” as she does on her new CD The Light, is a reminder of soul music’s world wide impact.

That serves as yet another reminder of the humanity of the humble and oft marginalized and despised people who created this music. That those men and women created an art form that provides joy to so many music fans and artists worldwide can only be called inspirational. A performer such as Yoshioka can also be disconcerting because she releases The Light at a time when plenty of folk express worry about the state of the genre right here in the good ole U.S of A.

Yoshioka approaches the covers and originals with a sense of reverence and technical understanding that many younger American singers do not display. Besides, the lady can sing. That comes clear when the listener hears her live duet of “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” with frequent collaborator Brian Owens, as well as her treatment of the gospel classic “His Eye Is On the Sparrow.”

Five of the 11 tracks on The Light are covers, and it’s easy to understand why any young singer would sing these classics. There’s really no way to hide vocal weaknesses when performing these tunes while being backed by a band, and Yoshioka clearly has the vocal chops to recreate classic numbers such as “A Change is Gonna Come."  You will know that Yoshioka possesses the gift after hearing her version of “Feeling Good,” the album’s opening track, which begins with Yoshioka singing a cappella before the arrangement shifts into a mid-tempo funk number. We get it. This imouto has soul.

My interest turns to the album’s originals, and that is where Yoshioka reveals the depth of her range as an R&B and soul singer. “Spend My Life,” the album’s lead single, is raucous throwback to 1960s Motown. The title track is a funk number filled with bass and brass and finds Yoshioka encouraging listeners to hold onto that glimmer of hope even in the darkest and most isolated moments.  Yoshioka amps up the rock quotient on the funky number “Certifiable,” a fun cut that finds the vocalist telling a story of how her relationship has the effect of messing with her sanity.

Yoshioka clearly felt the need to show that she could handle the classic material that any soul singer should be expected to knock out the park, and she clears the fences on each of those numbers. However, it is the originals that elevate The Light beyond a curiosity to a notable album by an artist with a distinct voice. Now that she's proven her soul chops with the multiple remakes on The Light, I'm looking forward to an entire album of new material by Nao Yoshioka. This is an impressive debut by an impressive singer; hopefully, she will show her full vision as an artist on projects yet to come. Recommended.

By Howard Dukes

 
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