By Paris365 on December 23, 2015

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Japanese soul



After being absent from the music scene for roughly two years, Anna Tsuchiya returns with something very unexpected, an EP of covers -- in English, no less -- recorded live in the studio with a full band in the form of The Groobeees. Perhaps even more surprising is that this is billed as soul, soul being the last thing you'd expect Anna to ever do, but it's mostly just Anna's voice that sounds like soul. The actual music by the band is more like rock 'n' roll. Pretty heavy, to be sure.

We hear the sound of a record player needle landing on vinyl as Anna's cover of "Stay With Me" by Sam Smith begins. The first few times I heard it I couldn't believe it. This was just not something I ever would have guessed Anna would do. I was almost in shock. Plus, "Stay With Me" is the only somewhat recent song she does here and I've already heard so many covers of it on Youtube that I really didn't want to ever hear another cover of it again ever. Plus, I'm bored with the original at this point, thanks to the radio playing it every twenty minutes. That said, the fourth time I listened to this version I was able to put my feelings about the song aside and just listen to it as though it was an Anna Tsuchiya original. This allowed me to truly hear her voice, as opposed to the all too familiar music, and zoning in on her voice was exactly what I needed to start liking this track. Am I in love with it now? No, not yet, but I am enjoying it more and more with each listen.

The next track is Anna's version of "I Want It That Way" by the Backstreet boys. Another song I never would've expected her to cover. Plus, it's a song I've always thought was over-rated. So, I was destined to dislike this track. But I wound liking it from the second time I heard it. The song isn't really changed much, though it does sound pleasantly more organic here, being performed with a live band. However, Anna's voice alone puts a different spin on it. Instead of being a bombastic boy band number, it's transformed into something I suspect the late French singer Edith Piaf would be singing if she were alive today.

One thing you may appreciate -- or hate -- about this release is that they performed these songs in such a way that one track bleeds into the next. None of the songs just abruptly stop or fade out, not until the final track, of course. For example, the beats and record scratching that end "I Want It That Way" continue into the beginning of her cover of Maroon 5's "Sunday Morning." Fortunately, I hadn't heard the original version of this song many times, so it was like listening to an Anna Tsuchiya original, which is likely why I loved it the first time I listened to it. I've since gone back and listened to the original and I can honestly say that I much prefer Anna's version. I just prefer her voice over Adam Levine's; she doesn't have to sing the song in falsetto, her voice being much more powerful, which makes the song that much more emotive.

"Killing Me Softly" -- originally by Lori Lieberman -- follows. It's a song we've all heard so many times over the years. It's one of those tracks that's always popping up on TV shows and in movies. You might have grown up listening to The Fugees' cover of it, though that's a cover I never really liked. If it had been just Lauryn Hill's voice, I would've liked it more but the guys shouting out things like "one time, one time" and such ruined it for me. But, hey, millions of people loved that version, so I digress. Let me just say that I think Anna's version is the best version of the song I've ever heard. The original is wonderful, but the two versions are so different. The original is a slow and delicate song; Anna's version is more like peppy rock, giving the song something of an edge, though Anna's voice emotes just as much pain as the original. And by being punchy, it just kicks you in the chest that much harder.

"I Want You Back," originally by The Jackson Five, is certainly not something anyone would've ever expected Anna to cover, but her spin on it is fabulous. For starters, she brings maturity to the song, being an adult woman and not a children's boy band. Then the music is heavier, more rock than pop. Bravo.

Amy Winehouse's "Rehab" is something Anna was born to sign. It's an edgy song with just the sort of attitude that Anna has projected throughout her career. Although the music here is soulful -- more so than that of some of the other tracks -- it still sounds a lot like the punk music Anna made early on in her career. Easily my favorite track on the EP.

Finally, Anna takes on Labelle's "Lady Marmalade," which is my second favorite track on hand. She turns it into something of a hard rock song with lots of electric guitar cranked up throughout most of the track. Plus, her band makes it sound more energetic and lively than the original. And the way Anna sings it, it almost sounds like a threat when she sings "Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?" Like she's saying, "Do you dare to sleep with me?" instead of what translates as "Do you want to sleep with me?" Hearing "Rehab" and "Lady Marmalade," I can't help but wish Anna would've done more heavier songs like these instead of the over-rated songs she does prior to these. That said, I would say that "Lady Marmalade" is over-rated, too, but Anna's version just knocks it out of the park, making it more colorful and extra stimulating. If you're a fan of Anna, I think you'd really like this.

If you're not already familiar with Anna's work, I would suggest that you listen to some of her other music before listening to this. I'd start with Strip me? or Nudy Show. Those albums are the real Anna, whereas I would say that this is just a side-project or experiment. Plus, she obviously didn't write these songs and I should think you'd want to hear what an artists' original music sounds like before listening to them do covers.

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