Over the last two years, Light in the Attic Records has been releasing albums in their Japan Archival Series, running the gamut from new age and ambient to city pop and boogie. It’s made for an astounding series of additions to an already fantastic catalog of reissues – including the likes of Rodriguez, Shin Joong Hyun, Jane Birkin, and other vintage cult stars.
New to the series is 1972 release Misora, the only album thus far from singer-songwriter Sachiko Kanenobu – and possibly the best Japan Archival Series discovery to date.
The obvious comparison from the start – the title track, a swaying waltz – is Joni Mitchell. Kanenobu’s sweet, steady voice and intricate guitar lines are not unlike those of her and other 1960s and ’70s Anglo folk revival legends. Listening and looking through the lyrical translations (done by Kanenobu herself for this reissue, the first North American release of Misora) makes it clear that Kanenobu’s main source of inspiration was the world around her. She paints romantic portraits of nature, taps into wells of human emotion, and often ties the two together in beautiful ways. After all, “Misora is a place, it’s a sky,” she says in the liner notes. “It’s a place you can go and be creative… sky, meaning the inside of myself, and my mind, my creative mind.”
Kanenobu’s creative mind is a sublime place to be. “Far Away from You” sounds like the struggling rain clouds she describes in it (“Fickle winds move away / Without making the sky cry”). “The Heat Haze” has a carefree outlaw twang to it that fits its joyful meaning (“Like the heat haze of a glorious summer day / Let’s ride on this melody”) and carries through to “Leave It to Time”. More peaceful is simple, straightforward “Moody Sky”, the calm before the dinner. On “What Do You Really Want?”, Kanenobu strums urgently, her voice a heartsick howl.
Slow, soulful electric guitar adds a subtle punch to the bitterness of “Blue Fish”, while “I Wish It Would Snow” is stripped down to acoustic strings with an echoing voice for a melancholy pull. Kanenobu then lightens the mood with marimba, adding a little bounce and whimsy to “Running Away on a Road of Snow”. At eight-minutes, “Falcon and I” is easily the album’s epic, catchy verses joined together by slow, psychedelic stretches of hauntingly emotive singing and strumming. Finally, “The First Strong Winds of Spring” gives the album a soft landing and lets Kanenobu’s voice reach out at full strength.
To call Kanenobu bewitching feels cliché, but fits the way she translates nature into lyric and sound on Misora. Though she left the idea of a career in music behind after Misora – superfan Philip K. Dick financed a single for her in 1981, but he died in 1982, before a new album could take shape – her album more than holds its own in a sea of vintage acoustic folk records. Including the artist’s notes from today is a beautiful touch and one that should be mandatory whenever possible for this kind of reissue label. Kanenobu left Japan – and professional music – just before her album’s initial release, giving her little chance to connect with the public that would come to adore her. Now, at long last, we can hear her story and her songs with perfect clarity.