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Yoshida Brothers

By Phil Freeman
Published March 13, 2007

Ryoichiro and Kenchi Yoshida are 28 and 26 respectively, and have been playing the three-stringed Tsugaru-shamisen since childhood. Their father got them started, but the music they make – a blend of traditional and modern rhythms and melodies – is entirely their own idea. Since 1999, they’ve released six albums in Japan, but only three in America. The first two US releases were compilations culled from the Japanese releases, but their latest disc, III (Domo), is almost the same in its American and Japanese editions.

The brothers’ sound is a captivating mix of styles. Before they recorded their debut, Kenchi discovered flamenco and blues, and the inspiration to combine traditional and modern musics was there. Both men play their shamisens like banjos, alternating high-speed lines and hovering above a variety of rhythms and melodic backdrops. On “Overland Blues,” from III, they create a country feel, a soundtrack to long tracking shots of cars moving across a desolate landscape. But on the next cut, “Cherry Blossoms In Winter,” they explore their Japanese heritage with thundering taiko drums and delicate strings behind their desolate plucked melodies. And later in the disc, the aptly titled “Morricone” finds them accompanied by fuzz guitar and Spanish guitar, not to mention keyboards and more drums. Their talent and compositional skill makes their chosen instruments extremely malleable, adaptable to almost any musical circumstance. All three of their American releases traverse a broad spectrum of moods, and all are testaments to inspiration’s ability to make tradition a starting point, not a creative cul-de-sac.