Gentle, yes, wild, no

Ah, the sophomore slump — it happens even to the best.

Technically, Wild and Gentle is Hatakeyama Miyuki’s third studio album as a solo artist, but it’s only her second with original material. (The hastily recorded Fragile was a covers album.)

Hatakeyama’s trembling croon is smooth enough to soothe, burnished enough to reveal vulnerability. It’s the kind of voice that could save bad music from itself. It’s not, however, enough to elevate mediocre arrangements.

Wild and Gentle travels further back in time than her debut album, Diving Into Your Mind. The last time out, she flirted with 70s So-Cal singer-songwriter/jazz-pop, but she kept her feet firmly planted in the present.

Wild and Gentle, on the other hand, could have very well been recorded in 1971, and Hatakeyama could have very well been Carole King. A track such as “Keshi”, with its Muzak-friendly orchestration, is doomed for the elevator.

Most tracks suffer from indescript arrangements, under which Hatakeyama buries her otherwise powerful voice. If it weren’t for an emotional reading by Hatakeyama, “Nemutte Shimaitai” would have been little more than blip. “Unmei no Ito”, on the other hand, is just plain listless.

Oddly enough, it’s the most dated track, “Umi ga Hoshii no ni”, which provides a welcome respite. Hatakeyama sings an incredibly infectous tune which makes the horn blurts feel charming instead of cheesy.

Toward the end of the album, Hatakeyama shakes herself out of her stupor and produces some interesting moments. The lilting meter and low brass accompaniment of “Unknown landscape” make it the most daring track on the album. “Nauseous ’cause I’m too happy” actually benefits from its sparse arrangement.

Unfortunately, Hatakeyama has traded the haunting emotional range of her previous work — including Port of Notes — for something safe. Listeners who love light, unobtrusive jazz may find Wild and Gentle suitable for those late, quiet nights.

Fans familiar with her full potential will find something lacking instead.