Sarah Àlainn and friends: Shionogi Music Fair – La Diva TV Live

Before One was announced, Sarah Àlainn performed in a live show with three other artists, which was released on CD with the somewhat cumbersome title Shionogi Music Fair – La Diva TV Live. Sarah was joined by Ryoko Moriyama, Seiko Niizuma and Ayaka Hirahara, neither of whom I had encountered before. Moriyama is a folk singer who has released some classics in her long career. Niizuma is mostly a musical artist, having performed in Miss Saigon and Les Miserables. Hirahara is a pop singer who performed the ending theme of Okami and has recorded a version of ”Inochi no Namae” from Spirited Away.

The album is a fairly sizable one with 18 tracks, covering roughly the same genres that I’m used to from Sarah. In fact there are several songs that she has recorded before, including a few that were on One. However, these are entirely different arrangements, starting with a powerful version of ”Bohemian Rhapsody”. It’s a bit more straight-forward than on One and doesn’t have the silly effects on the middle section, but I’m missing having Sarah’s vocals all the time. That’s the overall impression of the album, with the four singers switching around through most songs instead of focusing on a main vocalist.

The arrangement works better on ”Circle of Life”, which is suited better to the group and great as a result. It segues seamlessly into ”Beauty and the Beast”, which Sarah has also performed previously. I actually prefer this version to the one she did with Peabo Bryson. Together with ”Speechless”, ”Colors of the Wind” and ”Let It Go”, she has now covered quite a range of Disney classics.

Sarah has also covered Studio Ghibli before, and here the group performs the main theme from Princess Mononoke. It’s another good rendition, with an especially powerful second half. ”Kotoba ni dekinai” was the first song that I didn’t know from before, a Japanese pop song from 1982 by the band ”Off Course” that has had some covers including, apparently, one in the Sonic anime. ”Hikoukigumo” would also had been unknown if it hadn’t also been on One. This version is more lively and works very well as a quartet, reminding me of the Sakura Wars themes for some reason. It’s also a much better live recording.

”A Lover’s Concerto” was also new to me, partly. It’s based on a pop rendition from the 60’s of a classical piece ”Minuet in G Major”, formerly attributed to Bach. It’s a cheerful song and very catchy. Staying in that general period, ”Silly Love Songs” by McCartney from his Wings era is another happy song that works very well for the quartet. Still in the 70’s, ”I’ll Be There” is a classic ballad by Jackson Five, but this version is closer to Mariah Carey’s. ”Aint No Mountain High Enough” closes off this section, but this take is a bit too chaotic and I feel that the song has been destroyed by overuse in ads.

”Amazing Grace” is one of those songs that you take for granted and I’ve certainly destroyed it thoroughly on trombone once upon a time. That’s why I was almost surprised at how beautiful this rendition was. After that, ”Con te partiro” (”Time to Say Goodbye”) is quite familiar and Sarah takes point here, but her own arrangement was much better and the drums are too distinct at the end, overpowering the rest.

”The Voice ~ Jupiter” is a brief version of one of Ayaka Hirahara’s hits, based on the Jupiter movement from Gustav Holst. The same melody was also used for the British hymn ”I Vow to Thee, My Country”, which is probably why I recognize it. All renditions are great, and it makes me want to check out Hirahara’s other works. It’s just too bad that it’s so short here.

”You Raise Me Up” is a modern super classic that feels much older than it is. Sarah already recorded a great version, but the song works even better with a group. ”Smile”, however, is a really old super classic, originally composed by Charlie Chaplin but established by artists like Nat King Cole. This version is a bit slow though.

Sarah has recorded ”Caruso” already and her version is more personal and has some impressive vocals even though it’s not a favourite of mine. The quartet version is a bit messy. Similarly, her ”My Way” was intensely personal and emotional, while this doesn’t really fit for a group. ”Jidai”, finally, is a cover of a 1975 Japanese song that was also new to me, and a sweet end to the album.

Overall, La Diva TV Live is an impressive performance with great arrangements of many great songs. I would have liked more of Sarah, but in this context she’s actually the newbie. She doesn’t even have her own Wiki page yet (do I have to do everything myself?). Of course, getting your hands on this recording from a Japanese music show is not trivial since it doesn’t seem to be on streaming services, although Amazon Japan at least has it available. Importing Japanese albums is always an expensive affair, but this was quite worth the effort.