Dai Hirai “Love is Beautiful” (Avex Trax)

Dai Hirai’s breezy summer release “Life is Beautiful” was a hit with fans in Japan. His latest mini-album, “Love is Beautiful,” acts as an interesting side dish to June’s main course.

The six songs seem to be a play for overseas fans, “Love is Beautiful” is sung in English and half comprises acoustic covers of Western love songs. Hirai’s take on Eric Clapton’s “Change the World” is the strongest. It doesn’t have the summer vibe typical of Hirai’s music, but by upping the tempo, adding a harmonica and cutting down on backing vocals, there’s still warmth —it just feels more like the warmth of a campfire in the desert.

Hirai switches up the instruments by adding piano on his cover of Alicia Keys’ “If I Ain’t Got You” and Aerosmith’s “I Don’t Want to Miss a Thing.” The covers themselves are fine, but the decision to rework surefire hits seems a bit calculated. If Hirai had chosen some lesser known songs that showed more of a depth of music knowledge, that may have shown us a little more about who he is as a musician. It’s also hard to cover a song Steve Tyler is known for — that man has pipes.

It’s easier to get a sense of who Hirai is on opening track “It Don’t Matter with Donavon Frankenreiter.” It’s a collaboration between Hirai and Frankenreiter and though both artists are known for their beach aesthetic, it’s hard not to hear the influence of Nashville on this one. There’s an ease to the two artists’ chemistry and the harmonica give the track a folksy feel.

“Love is Beautiful” also features English versions of two Hirai originals. “Beautiful” serenades the listener, while “Life is Beautiful” finishes things up with a return to the island sound.

If “Love is Beautiful” is a nod to Hirai’s Western fans, it works. It’s intimate enough to feel like a gift. Hopefully he’ll make a habit of these mini-albums and go a little bit deeper next time.

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