Sound — 10
Masa Sumide's 14th studio album in 14 years! Released on 21/03/12. The album title itself represents the track listing "Half & Half" half being up-tempo tracks and half being ballads, equating to 7 tracks for each category. I'm going to give a description of each song. All tracks are played on a single acoustic guitar. 01. "Golden Sunrise": This has a very Japanese Tokyo feel to it. Very slow and relaxing soothing you into the album. Natural harmonics give this track that little bit of extra warmth. A simple song by Masa standards. (Ballad) 02. "With You By My Side": Another Ballad. A little more confusingly written than the previous song, this track takes you on more of a journey. The chorus has that little something that makes you feel when it's played for the last time it's going to take a different direction purely because it plays like a story. (Ballad) 03. "Into The Fire": Groovy! Giving you something different this piece is fierce! The guitar is played with that uncaring feeling. Masa really doesn't hold out on the slapping parts of the song on this one. Playing it like it isn't going to be around tomorrow. The album wouldn't be complete without it. (Up-tempo) 04. "Chasing The Sun": Classic sumide. An effort to describe. Mellow yet fast. It's very hard to tell if this song belongs to the Ballad or up-tempo side of the disc. It has that neutral ground. You can look at it from either angle. Make of this song what you will, different people will get a different feeling and have a different opinion from listening. (Up-tempo) 05. "What Is Love": One of my personal favourites on the album, probably the slowest track. It really does make you ponder some of the larger meanings behind human emotion. (Ballad) 06. "Something Blue": Starts of slow like it's trying to find its feet, quickly you see what the track has in mind. It takes you for a walk in the verse's and pauses for a break at the chorus giving you time to admire the music. (Ballad) 07. "Cool Drive": Much like "Into the fire" where the track listing is concerned - A faster paced track after two ballads. While the two songs sound nothing alike they do both keep the listener awake for the duration of the album. The song has a mind of its own. It has Masa's usual nano-second pauses right after those almost muted upstroked arpeggios, before busting into a groove. (Up-tempo) 08. "Love At First Bite In Hong Kong": The single of the album so to speak. This track was released via youtube before the album was released as promotion. This too has a Tokyo feel to it like the album opener only much faster. Throughout the entire song it sounds like there must be two fretting hands. The first thing you will think is "how is he playing this all at once!" (Up-tempo) 09. "Message In A Bottle": You can picture yourself calmly laying on a boat looking up at the sky in this one. Considering the craziness of the previous track is a perfect break. Just take a moment and play out different message in a bottle scenarios in your head. (Ballad) 10. "One Lonely Night": The CD takes a little sadder turn here, after the ambiance created in the track before you're now given the feeling of despair at its most desperate. It's a very easy misery to fall into if you're listening to the album in its entirety. (Ballad) 11. "Holiday": The best track! Something different about this one from any other song Masa has done. I think it's just the way the chorus plays out and how it just goes on and on and on at the end. It's very stop-start. It's like more music is trying to break through and the guitar just isn't enough to capture it all! You really have to listen to this one to see what I mean. (Up-tempo) 12. "Close Is Enough": When the album has finished this is probably one of the songs you will remember most. If you thought "Love At First Bite In Hong Kong" was extreme this is more so. It sounds like he has four hands! You'll think there's no way he's doing this with one guitar. (Up-tempo) 13. "Precious Moments": This track was previously released on the now out-of-print "Shadow Dancer" album that was released in 2001. It fits in the with album nicely. You wouldn't be able to tell that it was written 11 years prior to other works if you didn't know. Quite a sad sounding song. Very dreary, probably not a track you will be able to remember very well when the CD has finished despite it being close to the end. (Ballad) 14. "Joie De Vivre": This song sounds different to how I imagined it would. I looked up the translation before I listened. It means - Exuberant enjoyment of life. It does have a very happy carefree feel to it. Strikes me as the sort of song you have to be playing if you really want to connect with the title. You're thankful this is the last track. The echo like drone of "Precious Moments" would have left you feeling down but this lifts you up from the mood it creates. (Up-tempo) The album is precisely 51:20 minutes long.
Lyrics — 10
Though there are no lyrics, the names of the songs speak for themselves. You have love, Fire, loneliness, holidays, driving, sunrises and your general joy of life. Try to look beyond words. And let yourself get lost in the metaphors of the one or more obscure titles.
Overall Impression — 10
It's another solid, well recorded album. My impression of the physical copy of the CD was a little lacklustre. Unlike Masa's others it is not a plastic casing but very slim compact smooth cardboard. No booklet. The first album in years to not come with the tunings to his songs. Guitar used: Sheldon Schwartz "SUGOI" Model made in Canada. Strings used: ALCHEMY GoldPhos LT by Dean Markley. For anyone wanting to listen to a sample, "Love At First Bite In Hong Kong" is available on YouTube under "SkinnyDogMusic" channel.