Sing a song

Who would have thought when Cocco made a comeback, she would return as a country artist?

And not just a country artist — an alt-country artist.

When Cocco teamed up with Quruli’s Kishida Shigeru to record a Japanese version of her English song, “Sing a Song ~No Music, No Life~”, she transformed an alt-rock anthem to a country-rock jam session.

The band from that recording session became Singer Songer, and that free-wheeling spirit was channeled into an additional nine songs on the group’s debut, Barairo Pop.

Cocco takes sole songwriting credit on the album, but it’s evident the singer who announced her retirement in 2001 is not quite the same person who brought two-thirds of Quruli and their support musicians back with her in 2005.

Perhaps it’s Kishida’s affinity for American roots music that gives this music a brighter feel. Dr.StrangeLove’s Takamune Negishi highlighted the intensity of Cocco’s work. Kishida brings out her exuberence.

It takes some effort to adjust to the shift in styles. The prominent banjo and half-time backbeat of “Amefuri Hoshi” shows off its country flavor with pride. “Ame no Lullaby” bears a striking resemblence to “Tennesse Waltz”.

(“Oasis”, on the other hand, sounds a bit too much like the brilliant green’s “Tsumetai Hana”.)

With a few more diminished chords, “baby, tonight” could have felt more like Delta blues.

Cocco hasn’t totally abandoned the muse that marked her early career. She still includes a children’s song (“Home”), and she offers tunes both majestic (“Millions of Kiss”) and rocking (“Shoka Rinrin”, “Romantic Mode”).

The band produced the album itself, and its sound has a lot more breathing room than Takamune’s dense arrangements. Cocco’s voice is as alluring as ever, and the brighter tone suits her just fine.

In short, she sounds like she’s enjoying herself, and really, she deserves to. There’s a trade-off, though — the intensity so intrinsic to her earlier solo work has no room for this new collaborative dynamic.

As such, it sometimes feel like Barairo Pop is all appetizer or dessert — no main course. Breezing by at a brisk 40 minutes, the album ends before it’s really had a chance to take off.

But Barairo Pop is a Singer Songer album, not a Cocco solo album. The fact Cocco would take a chance on a drastic creative makeover is admirable in its own right, and really, it’s refreshing to hear joy so prominently in her voice.