The exception to the rule

If Michelle Branch or Vanessa Carlton were Japanese, they’d sound a lot like Nakamura Fukiko.

The main songwriter of Core of Soul, Nakamura and her band performs the kind of heart-felt alt-pop dug by anyone who thinks John Mayer is remotely talented.

The audience who stuck around for the band’s SXSW 2003 performance in Austin, Texas, revealed the target market for this kind of music — native Japanese and American women.

The band’s second album, Over the Time ‘Time is Over’, is a shade of its incredibly tight debut, Natural Beauty. Even a naysayer to Core of Soul’s brand of radio-friendly pop (yes, I’m talking about myself) would find Natural Beauty irresistible.

Two things pretty much make the album exceptional — Nakamura’s fiery performance and a decent set of songs.

The bilingual singer is a magnetic presence throughout the album. When she lets loose on the chorus of “Full Moon Prayer”, it’s hard not to hum along. On “Photosynthesis”, she starts off sweetly, almost Enya-like, but when the song reaches its boisterous chorus, she tears it up.

Unlike the third-generation Alanis-isms of the most recent wave of “women in rock”, Core of Soul has a shade of Brit-pop in its music.

The rhythmically complex “Trash the Pride” shows hints of All About Eve and Innocense Mission (who are really from Pennsylvania), while “The Spirit of This Place” could have been a Sundays outtake.

The album does contain a few duds. “Kohitsuji no Kamisama” is mired by sentimentality, while “the Deep Sea” doesn’t do much as an interlude.

Still, Naturally Beauty is something of an exception to the rule. Core of Soul may specialize in a kind of bland singer-songwriter pop, but on this album, the trio at least sounds like they can rise above it from time to time.