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Record Review - 7 December 12 2001

Jin Jin/Firefly, last year's collaboration between idiosyncratic Japanese folkie Takashi Hirayasu and Hawaiian steel-guitar master Bob Brozman, was that rarest of occurrences: a successful blind date. Recorded on an island off the coast of Takashi's native Okinawa, the album avoided the usual pitfalls of Yankee-plus-other match-ups, in which Americans who shall remain nameless (Ry Cooder) offer cult celebrity and extraneous musical input to artists who have far more use for the former than the latter.

Instead, the duo's on-the-spot arrangements of traditional Japanese folk songs are organic in the best sense. Totally unaffected and totally complementary, their jauntiness sounds like the work of an old couple — which is a considerable achievement considering the album was created during the first four days of Hirayasu and Brozman's acquaintance.

They've known each other an entire year now, so the sturdiness of the new Nankuru Naisa isn't quite as surprising. But it's just as compelling. The jovial "Koza No Machi" sounds like something Bing Crosby and Bob Hope might have used to turn The Road to Hollywood into The Road to Okinawa. The title track's see-sawing rowboat melody feels like a lost Japanese bonus track from Have Moicy!, the classic folk jamboree by Michael Hurley, the Unholy Modal Rounders and Jeffrey Frederick & the Clamtones. "Mensoreyo-Toshin Doi" moves irresistibly forward, with one note leapfrogging over itself and repeating until it climaxes with a male chorus shouting, "So! So! So! So! So! So!"

Hirayasu doesn't need to dip into the public domain songbook for instant classics. Nankuru Naisa proves he can write them himself.

-- MICHAELANGELO MATOS