Beyond her years

Hayashi Asuca is a music publicist’s wet dream.

She’s only 13 years old! She has a mature voice! She’s so good, the rest of Asia hears her debut at the same time as Japan!

But for a music scene that manufactures pop idols as easily as the U.S. can elevate crappy rock bands, it’s no challenge to be skeptical.

In Hayashi’s case, the signal has some leverage against the noise.

Hayashi does indeed possess a voice years beyond her numerical age. In fact, it’s entirely easy to forget an instrument so resonant comes from someone so young. It’s the kind of voice gay men in the States would readily claim for themselves.

(God, help me not to compare Asuca to Cher.)

Thankfully, Hayashi’s handlers recognize such a voice deserves more than the usual chirping beats of standard J-pop.

Saki, Hayashi’s debut album, may not put much of an artistic fight against the likes of UA, ACO or even Utada Hikaru, but it’s a serviceable vehicle to showcase Hayashi’s range in a number of versatile settings.

After Hayashi warms up her soul sister pipes on the opening title track, she unleashes a roar on the single release “‘Haha'”. Strings, folk guitar and congos are her only accompaniment on this song — her voice pretty much drives everything else.

On the string-ladden “Satsuki no Sora”, Hayashi shows off her theatrical, if not operatic, potential. “Tenohira Kurenai Tsubomi” could have well been delivered by a Mississippi mama singing in Carnegie Hall.

Even the more straight-forward tracks take on a deeper hue when powered by Hayashi’s voice. “Chigiregumo” isn’t terribly remarkable, but the mix of acoustic guitars, international beats and keyboard flourishes on “Sasabune” and “Tsuyukusa” make for a nice complement.

Hayashi sounds best when she’s given the opportunity to dramatize. “ake-kaze”, her debut single, alternates between sparseness and exaggeration. “Chiisakimono”, on the other hand, sports a performance to crash down a full house.

It’ll be interesting to see how Hayashi develops as an artist as she grows older. She certainly has the potential to produce some challenging work down the line.

For now, she has an album that does her voice justice while still possessing enough appeal for mainstream audiences.