Softsoul - Timeless

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After enjoying success as a producer, session musician and former member of Original Love, Shigeo Miyata formed a soul band named soft soul of illadelphia around ten years ago, however he passed away before the band could ever make an album. Five years after his death, that dream has finally been fulfilled with the release of “Timeless.“

Guitarist Kiyoto Konda recounts the formation of the band: “One night when Miyata, Kakizaki (keyboard), Obawo (percussion) and I were at a soul bar in Hakata named Goodie’s listening to Johnny Bristol's "Strangers in Dark Corners," he said "Let's add some strings to this kind of sound and make a band!" And that's how this project began.”

As a tribute to their founder, the remaining members under the name of Softsoul have pulled out all the stops for this one, recruiting an A-list of vocal talents from Japan and songwriters from around the world, including Jean-Paul Maunick of Incognito, Hanah Spring and Mes. From start to finish, this whole album is a love letter to Philadelphia soul, Motown and disco, but its given more emotional weight by the nature of the project.

The album is powered by several key elements, most obviously the vocalists, who despite being Japanese, have absolutely nailed the delivery. Japan has always been great at mastering other countries' styles and technologies, and this is no exception. Almost every track has a different singer and even different writers, but they are all united in their emotion and stylistic background. Some of the contributors like Maree Araky and Chihiro Sings provide vocals on some tracks and also write others, making the album highly cohesive despite the collective effort.

The other key is the string section, which consists of full time members and not session musicians, so they're integral to the sound. One of the best things about Philly soul was the richness of the instrumentation, and its present here instead of being synthesized. You get a full sound, its completely natural and complements the tracks perfectly.

And it's a real joy to listen to these songs, which are mostly about love (because that was the style at the time). They're expertly crafted to accurately capture the sound and spirit of the era, with lots of I see what you did there moments like the interpolation of the bass line from McFadden and Whitehead's "Ain't no stoppin us now" (which is always a winner in any era) on "Take Me," echoes of Earth Wind & Fire's "Brazilian Rhyme" on "Billionaire Suite" and even the refrain of Mariah Carey's "Dream lover" at the end of "Betta." Yet it's completely modern in production and can be enjoyed by anyone, not just disco/soul lovers.

Straight up, this is a great soul record, but when you factor in the reason why this record even exists, it resonates even more powerfully. Whenever they talk about "being meant for me," "saying goodbye," or "what we had," it often feels like they are referring to Miyata, and this album has likely been a way of gaining personal closure, of paying respect and showing love.

“Miyata was a truly stylish drummer who was a key contributor to the Shibuya-kei era, and he had a deep knowledge and love of all kinds of music.” remembers Konda. “Whenever we went drinking at our regular soul bars, he introduced us to many different songs, from disco classics like Dayton to J-pop like Perfume.”

“A few days after mastering this album, on the anniversary of Miyata's death, we took the newly minted CD and told him that we finally completed it. It took a long time, but we are proud that we could carry over Miyata's super cool style (dubbed "Miyata-ism") and complete this album at last. I hope that Softsoul's music becomes the daily soundtrack to someone's life, and if it makes someone's soul a little "softer," that will make us really happy.”

It’s hard to imagine a follow up to top this (hopefully there is one!), but “Timeless” will remain forever as an epic and worthy monument to both Miyata and days gone by.

Tokyo ON also recommends: Q.A.S.B. - Thinking of You

Royce Leong