By Paris365 on November 02, 2012

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Victor Entertainment

Singer-songwriter Leo Ieiri is something of a child prodigy. She's only 17 and she's already had three big hits and has just now released her debut album. Simply releasing an album at her age would be impressive but the fact that she writes all of her own songs is just mind-blowing, especially when you consider how amazing they are. And I do mean amazing.

Leo was born in Kurume, Japan and was raised in Fukuoka. She knew she wanted to be a singer-songwriter at just 13 and went to study at Ongaku-juku Voice, the school that has previously taught Yui and Ayaka, two other singer-songwriters who made their debut at a young age. During 2011, Leo left the comfort of her parents' home and went to live in Tokyo alone in order to pursue music, though she also went to high school there. Her first single, "Sabrina," was released on February 15, 2012.

Leo's remarkable voice is center stage throughout the album. From the second she starts singing opening track "Sabrina" ("サブリナ") -- one of the most addictive songs I've heard in years -- until the very end of the album, it's the passion in her vocals that drives this magnificent record. While her voice is quite beautiful, it also has a dash of grit, just enough to make her voice sound entirely unique and more mature than most singers her age. And her manner of singing is powerful and possessed of real star quality even when she's singing a hushed piano ballad like "キミだけ" ("Only You").

While most of Leo's songs could be categorized as pop rock, this isn't an album where every song sounds the same. Quite the contrary, in fact, which is a testament to what an inspired songwriting dynamo she is. The album is also exceptionally well-produced, which also helps give each song it's own distinguishable vibe. The insanely catchy "Last Stage," which has more hooks than most albums by other artists, begins with a bit of electro-fluttering and that pitter patter continues once the live drums kick in. Leo sings it with a vulnerability and sadness in her voice even during the arena rock style chorus. (If Taylor Swift was a Japanese rocker, I imagine she would sound an awful lot like this.) Her vocals are the exact opposite of that during "Say Goodbye," which finds her sounding self-assured and strong. "I want to say goodbye, I don't need you," she sings without the slightest hint of doubt in her voice. She sounds even more enthusiastic during "Shine," which has somewhat subtle verses and one hell of a high octane chorus. "You can shine," she sings with an urgency in her voice and you can't help but feel inspired. (Bon Jovi and Aerosmith should be writing with her -- she's got better hooks than anything they've done in a long time.) She's plenty capable of sounding angry, too. "You lie to lie to lie to lie," she roars on "Fake Love," which has something of a funky rhythm and impressive bass guitar noodling. And I suspect that she's feeling vindictive during "Bless You," her lyrics sounding ironic as she sings over something of a dance pop beat along with the blazing guitars she's become famous for. Another highlight is the haunting ballad "Lady Mary," which begins with soft acoustic guitar and light piano. "Let me fly away," she sings over and over at one point, channeling vintage Stevie Nicks. I imagine that the song is a prayer to the Virgin Mary, though I could be mistaken. "Mister" also finds her singing along to piano, though in this case it's Billy Joel who she seems to be channeling. The lyrics to this one are a bit silly though: "Crazy day, sunshine ray, hey, hey mister, yay." But, hey, something would be wrong if she didn't act her age at least once on the album. -Michael McCarthy

Labels and artists interested in being featured here may contact Michael McCarthy at cinema365@gmail.com. Follow Michael on Twitter https://twitter.com/paris365.

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