Filling big shoes

Shiratori Maika belongs to the Joni Mitchell School of Singers — she could sing a traffic sign and move people to tears.

When she first courted labels for a record deal, executives told Shiratori she needed to write her own music before she could be taken seriously.

As such, Shiratori set out to write her own material, most of which could fit well in the Lilith Fair scheme of things.

Thankfully, Shiratori pairs up with Cocco producer and Dr.StrangeLove bassist Takamune Negishi on the singer’s debut album, Hanazono. Takamune replicates the production style he used with Cocco with Shiratori, and the combination makes for a potent force.

Hanazono is a beautiful work, full of soaring melodies and dramatic arrangements.

Shiratori could have fallen into the latter-day Sarah McLachlan trap of introspective schlock, but Takamune puts some real viscera into the singer’s music.

“Listen to Me” starts off with Shiratori and a guitar, then bursts into a full-band for a chorus. The contrast is striking as it is brilliantly delivered.

“Android” sounds like Shiratori and Takamune took a page out of the Walrus playbook — loud, grunge-y guitars alternating between sparse, tender moments.

“Sen” goes straight for a Celtic feel that doesn’t result in international culture clash, while “Flashback” doesn’t relent in giving a charged performance.

Cocco fans may either embrace Shiratori as a suitable torch-bearer for the seminal Okinawan icon or accuse her for riding Cocco’s coattails. Hanazono, as a member of a Japanese rock mailing list pointed out, sounds a lot like Kumuiuta.

The two artists do have enough differences to tell them apart.

Shiratori’s lilting soprano is actually more reminiscent of Bonnie Pink, right down to her excellent command of English. Plus, Shiratori isn’t so overly intense — wailing isn’t part of her M.O., nor should it be.

All this doesn’t stop Hanazono from being an excellent debut. Shiratori’s pristine voice, well-crafted songs, dramatic performances — all these elements come together nicely.