It was back in March 2008. I was out and about in Tokyo, doing my Saturday sightseeing thing. It was early in the evening and I happened to venture into one of my favorite places—Tokyo Midtown—to do some shopping in the Hugo Boss Orange store and to grab some pineapples from Dean & DeLuca for the train ride home from Tokyo to Fussa. On my way into the Midtown Galleria, I stopped by Tsutaya Music Store just to see what new tunes they had. If you’ve never been inside of a Japanese music store that caters to a more urban crowd, you don’t know what you’re missing. They actually play the explicit stuff over the loudspeakers…the really explicit stuff. Anyway, as I was sifting through some of the new releases, I wasn’t really paying attention to what was playing over the loudspeaker until a track with an unusual airy beat started playing. It sucked me in to the point that I was nodding my head back and forth. Then, the lyrics kicked in: “I hope it rains today and wash away/All your problems/I hope you smile and turn the other way/When they test you”. From that point forward, I was wired into the track. I quickly gathered from the chorus that the track was called “Good Day” and the lyrics kinda resonated with me at that particular point in life. It only took me maybe half of the track to realize who was singing. It was none other than Lina, an extremely underrated soul singer that popped up on my radar a few years earlier. Her voice was unmistakable and that beat was consistent with the Jeeve sound I heard on “I’m Not The Enemy” off her 2001 debut, Stranger on Earth. What I was hearing in Tsutaya was new music to my ears. So I asked one of the clerks had she released a new album or was there a special Japanese version of one of her first two albums and I was pointed towards the R&B section. That’s when I was introduced to her 2008 release, Morning Star.
Morning Star is Lina’s 3rd studio album after Stranger on Earth (2001) and The Inner Beauty Movement (2005). With production from her longtime hit-maker, Jean-Yves “Jeeve” Ducornet, it features 20 tracks at around 72 minutes of total music. The album kicks off with the intro, in which Lina harmonizes to “welcome the day”, reminding us to not miss our calling. The intro gives way to “Wake Up”, which has a bit of an I’m here to stay feel to it with her urging the listener to wake up…especially with lyrics like “I won’t let you sleep on me”. Track 3 is “I’ll Stick Around” and it features a beat that you’ll probably find inside of an 80s roller rink and lyrics in which she declares that she’ll stick around for a particular love interest. The next track is “Joy”. It’s a really swell track about how a love interest brings about a specific happiness in her life and that nothing take away her joy. I really like the lyrics: “While everyone is talking crazy/I just wanna keep my baby close to me”. I wish a woman would mess around and say something like that to me…all bets are off, in a really good way. Track 5 is “Feel the Love”, a track that immediately reminds you of R. Kelly’s “Step In The Name of Love”. Featuring LA-based rapper Young Dre the Truth, it’s a track in which Lina takes us on a lyrical tour across the United States to make sure we “feel the love”. Track 6 is “Between Us” and it’s one of the hidden gems on the album. Besides the ridiculously awesome beat that’ll get you moving, the lyrics speak to preventing outside influences from coming in between an emerging love. Next up is “Everyday”, which is my 3rd favorite track on the album. It’s one of those tracks that attacks your conscious. I don’t know what’s more impressive about the track: the bridge with “Far away, a baby cries of hunger pains/Do we care/Or will we look other way/We lay our heads to sleep at night/While soldiers die and soldiers fight for us” or the chorus, which comes at you with “Tomorrow we’ll sing/The songs of yesterday/We will know the meaning of today/We will fly, we will shine/We will leave our cares behind/Oh, I believe/One day, we will be free”. Track 8 is “Get It Right” and it’s definitely one of those anthems for the ladies. It’s a really solid track though and I actually wished that many, more women listened to tracks like it. The next track is the “Morning Star Interlude” and it’s my favorite track. Despite being only 43 seconds long with “You amaze me” being the only words, I feel as if it’s the track that speaks the most to me. Given it’s musical arrangement, I think it could’ve been a heavily played track on mood music radio stations had she added more to it. It certainly has a permanent home in my Quiet Storm playlist and once I actually get to a point where I propose to a woman, it’ll be her official ringtone in my phone from that point on. Track 10 is “Who’s Your Daddy”. It has an incredibly funky beat and features lyrics that really force you to consider the people that influence you to do the things you do in life. Next up is “Through the Fire”, somewhat of a fast-paced track with a Latin flavor to it. This is definitely one that’ll get you dancing. In fact, when I was taking ballroom dance classes in Tokyo, I practiced my cha-cha-cha to it. Track 12 is “Gone” and the way it sounded the first 2 seconds, I thought it was going to be the same as a similarly-named track off of *NSYNC’s Celebrity album. But that turned out to be just how the beat started and I must say that the chorus is one of the best I’ve ever heard: “Better get out of my way or I will/Run you over/Don’t try to flag me down because I’m/Not pulling over/See, I’m in this race to win/So I’m gone just like the wind”. In the 13 spot is “Good Day”…my 2nd favorite track on the album. The music arrangement alone is riveting to me: Jeeve definitely showed out on it. The lyrics portray it as a track that brings closure to a relationship that didn’t end on the best of terms. It has one of the coldest lines I’ve ever heard in a post break-up song: “I hope you find the love/You threw away you don’t find everyday/I hope you pay/I hope you lie awake at night/Missing my face/And my embrace”. It’s a staple on my Heartbreak Hotel playlist and it may quite possibly be the most devastating post break-up song I’ve ever listened to…right up there with “Doin’ Just Fine” (Boyz II Men), “I Learned From The Best” (Whitney Houston), and “When You Think of Me” (Eric Benét). Track 14 is “Walk Away”, a track with a nice, little swanky beat and lyrics that speak to that inevitable moment when a person is torn between staying in or walking away from a relationship. Next up is “Mr. DJ”, which features a beat and lyrics that’ll make it a favorite in any urban dance club outside of the Deep South. After “Mr. DJ” is “Breakthrough”. It’s a track where Lina speaks about not being sad or bitter and that she’s having a breakthrough. From my vantage, I’d venture to say that it’s a subliminal shot at Hidden Beach Recordings and their breakup but who really knows. Track 17 is “Change Is a Good Thing”. It’s your trademark confidence track that speaks to being open to change. Next up is “Piano”, a really mellow ballad of a track with the keystrokes of a piano driving the beat. The part of the track I like most is “Make me an example/For everyone to see/How you can be bound/Then one day set free”. That little snippet always speaks to me. The penultimate track is “Glory” and it features Dave Hollister. It’s a track that pretty much gives God glory over a beat that’s very different than your everyday, run-of-the-mill praise song. The album ends with the outro in which Lina harmonizes about how a great time she had on the album while sending a shout-out of thanks to the fans.
It’s been 6 years since I copped this album out of Tsutaya for a cool ¥1700 but it was money well spent…and still is. Several of the tracks on this album get rotational play in my various playlists. In fact, tracks from Stranger on Earth, The Inner Beauty Movement, and even her 2012 release, The Love Chronicles of a Lady Songbird, all get rotational play from me. Lina, herself, is cool peeps, too. I follow her on Instagram and she’s actually quite sociable with fans. She’s based out of Southern California these days and my peeps on the Left Coast all tell me she puts on a good show. One of these days, her performance schedule and my drop-ins on LA will align perfectly and I’ll get to see her in action. For now, though, I’m satisfied with the product she puts out. I think you will be as well. So check out all of her stuff…especially the subject of this album review, Morning Star.