For their role in introducing and spreading bluegrass throughout Japan from the 1950s forward, the Ozaki Brothers were recently honored as a Pioneer of Bluegrass Music and by inclusion in the International Bluegrass Music Museum’s Video Oral History Project. That honor also included having one of their CDs placed in the museum’s permanent collection. The one chosen is the subject of this review, a new release featuring guitarist/vocalist Yashushi Ozaki and mandolinist/vocalist Hisashi Ozaki performing 13 songs, backed by banjo, fiddle, bass and resonator guitar, in a style solidly grounded in the 1950s and ’60s.
The 13 songs they’ve chosen, most of them standards or semi-standards, share the commonality of tunefulness, a hallmark of that era. Some, such as “Remember Me,” the Louvin’s “When I Stop Dreaming” or their cover of Reno and Smiley’s “Money, Marbles And Chalk” may be bathed in sentimentality, while others, such as “Hillbilly Fever,” “Tennessee Border” or the Little Jimmy Dickens bob and bounce of “It May Be Silly,” may be of the happy-go-lucky school, but all of them, from “The Old Rugged Cross” to “Eight More Miles To Louisville” to their medium tempo version of “My Old Kentucky Home,” are of a type that no matter how many times you’ve heard them never fail to please.
That type of song plays perfectly into the Ozaki Brothers’ gentle and flowing performances. Who sings which lead I can’t determine from the notes (they’re in Japanese), but singularly and in harmony, the brothers present lighthearted and melodic vocalizing that has little edge or bite, but is always pleasant. Hisashi’s mandolin leads, never far from the melody and dominated by long strings of repeated notes, are equally perfect to the material, as are the leads of resonator guitarist Shinji Kojima, banjoist George Buckner and fiddler Mutt Comb. An album that represents well the Ozaki Brothers in the IBMM’s collection. (Hisashi Ozaki 2-21-2 Hongodai Sakae-ku, Yokohama, Japan 247-0008, [email protected])BW