Room to expand

For her first few recordings, Hajime Chitose stuck almost exclusively to mid-tempo ballads.

That was fine — the slower tempo allowed Hajime to showcase her ability to embellish and to show off her often soaring vocals. It was easy, then, to forgive the homogeneity of her debut album, Hainumikaze, so long as she impressed us with her voice.

But after two mini-albums, many singles and one album of the same kind of stuff, it’s high time for some change — which Nomad Soul offers in small but significant doses.

Sure, the mid-tempo, dub-influenced pop tracks still have sway over her second album, but this time around, Hajime is giving room for some fast songs.

“Neiro Shichishoku”, an up-tempo track with continental Asian influences, finds Hajime keeping up with the quicker pace. “Getsurei 17.4” goes for more of a “Smooth Operator”-era Sade vibe, allowing Hajime to serve up a sultry performance.

Hajime works best, however, when the pace allows her singing to expand. “Kawasemi” bares remarkable resemblance to other songs in her repertoire — “Wadatsumi no Ki”, “Roogyoo no Tsukai” — but it’s the kind of song she was meant to sing.

The singles from Nomad Soul stand out in particular. “Sen no Yoru to Sen no Hiru” strikes a nice balance between a fast tempo and Hajime’s vocal flourishes. “Itsu ka Kaze ni Naru Hi” has just a plain beautiful melody, but it’s “Kono Machi” which strikes the emotional core. It’s one of her most deeply affecting performances to date.

Nomad Soul does have a few bumps. It takes a while before the Yamazaki Masayoshi-produced “Aurora no Sora kara Mitsumete Iru” sinks in. The track is saved by a middle section in which Hajime does her wonderful Bulgarian women’s choir imitation. And while “Getsurei 17.4” is different, it seems abrupt after the wrenching performance of “Kono Machi”.

These moments are few, and such tracks as Matsutoya Yumi’s “Uraga no Oka” do well to cancel them out.

By comparrison, Nomad Soul doesn’t have the emotional weight of Hainumikaze, but it does allow Hajime a chance to present her voice in more versatile settings.