The finest songstress in warm J-folk.
It has been 15 long years since Yae’s last studio album to my knowledge. Forging a fantastic career using acoustic instruments for cathartic and melodic folk songs in the early 2000’s following being the voice of Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles’ theme Kaze No Ne, it is appropriate that the year the game is remastered, she returns with a new album. ‘On The Border’ is a fascinating album of unity, acceptance and new songs of breaking down borders.
Yae’s soft but wise sounding voice commands the music from beginning to end as she leads all the acoustic guitars, world instruments, traditional Japanese instruments and acoustic percussion. I want to give a special mention to the vast array of percussion used and how all the drums add weight and warmth to the whole album. Similar to her last two studio albums, Yae also takes on different musical styles for the album too. The title track opens the album in traditional Japanese country folk that she is famed for. It is a wholesome and beautiful message of hope that is made rousing by a choir that joins Yae as the drums and guitars build. ‘Night of Roses’ then turns towards a dusty Arabian vibe that evokes a travelling caravan through harsh conditions. The oud absolutely shines here. To complete the celebratory trio that opens the album, ‘Canto Das Tres Racas’ then hits the Latin folk vibe with rolling percussion, male chants and huge explosions of rapturous joy. This is by far the happiest Yae album to date, including her Hawaiian themed ‘Aloha Nui’.
The surprises don’t stop there as steel drums gently roll for the would-be Ghibli theme song in waiting ‘Mirai He No Uta’. It is a beautifully clean and simple ballad that demonstrates Yae’s ability to deliver a timeless melody like a mother cradling a child to sleep. ‘Gracias A La Vida’ opens with a spoken passage like a poem that is accompanied by Spanish guitar. Yae then sings in Spanish a beautifully sparse piece thanking all for living. This is one-two punched with an exquisite cello and piano-based ballad. It has a slow and solemn tone to it that is hauntingly beautiful as Yae sings in Catalan a Christmas song. It couldn’t sound less festive if it was in metal. All this and we are only six songs in.
Continuing the evolving tour of Planet Earth, out come the mandolins and mandolas for ‘Barco Negro’ – an upbeat skippity marching track. Here, Yae duals up her voice for a Parisian feel that evokes deep French routes without ever touching an accordion. Well done. The Middle East returns with ‘Shalom Chaverim’. The Oud works a treat here, as do the steel drums in ‘Yashi No Mi’ for two gentle ballads of peace. The album transitions into its soft and motherly closing third after these. ‘Smile’ is a lovely and uplifting gentle folk piece that again could end up as a closing theme for an emotional anime. ‘Migate Goran Your No Hoshi Wo’ is quite country bumpkin with piano, guitar and harmonica. We also have two covers of ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘Auld Lang Syne’ to round off the album.
‘On the Border’ is easily the most sincere and loving album of 2020. The whole thing sounds like a timeless musical Gaia descending to give you the warmest hug. This is timely and exactly what the world needs – love, warmth, melody and clean simplicity. Please don’t leave it so long next time Yae, the world is a better place with your strength resonating in our ears.
Recommended track: On The Border
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