Never mind that Taiwanese singer- actor Kenji Wu is no A-list star - 17 years after his debut, he is a seasoned singer-songwriter who still has fun with music, but it no longer comes across as gimmicky.
This is a far cry from his earlier records such as First Creative Album (2004) and The Kenji Show (2005), in which it seemed as though he was trying a little too hard (on the song Wu Ke Qun, for example, he imitated a gamut of singers, from Jay Chou to A-do).
Aptly, he sings in the title track: "Life is full of ups and downs/It's perfection to experience it yourself." It is a collaboration with Chinese singer LaceDoll incorporating jazz and rap as they contemplate the vicissitudes of life.
Another breezy number is Shandong Lass, which has the feel of a folk ditty as Wu sketches a portrait of a rural girl who discovers that city life can be lonely.
Among the handful of radio- friendly ballads here, Losing Speed stands out for its memorable melody and lyrics, which liken his state of mind to driving in the night: "Braking suddenly/Memories shimmering on the streets/I crash head-on into loneliness."
The closer, Pulling Radishes, is a poignant collaboration with Taiwanese indie musician Yorke Tsai that ponders what happens after happily-ever-after: "Is the prince still doing well, how is the princess faring/If you're not a prince, how do you live?"
Is it a reflection on his own status in the scene? He might not be pop royalty, but he can still put out music worth listening to.
If the cover gives you a sense of deja vu, it is because the singer's backlit silhouette against a blue background is a clear nod to Frank Sinatra's Live At The Sands recording with the Count Basie band.
ONE MORE FOR THE ROAD
Curtis Stigers with the Danish Radio Big Band
Pop singer Curtis Stigers is no Sinatra - his voice is too nasal and reedy to match the Chairman's silky baritone range. But he slips easily into the mainstream repertoire here that pilfers from Sinatra's classic Capitol years, with the signature arrangements by Nelson Riddle.
Come Fly With Me makes use of Riddle's iconic swingy brass punctuations, for example, while I've Got You Under My Skin reproduces note for note trombonist Milt Bernhart's soaring solo in mid-tune.
The Danish Radio Big Band are more than competent, its brass swinging lightly through numbers such as My Kind Of Town, and swooning gently in the ballad, Summer Wind.
Stigers, too, seems to be enjoying the lush backing of this outfit. He makes canny use of his grainy voice to channel Ol' Blue Eyes' older, world-weary persona and banters easily with the audience in Fly Me To The Moon.
This may not be ground-breaking music, but it is delivered with warmth and class.
Ong Sor Fern
Lovers of string music should not miss this excellent album, which brings together the best-loved string works of two English masters, Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958) and Edward Elgar (1857-1934).
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS / ELGAR
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Pinchas Zukerman, violin & conductor
Decca 478 9386
American violinist Pinchas Zukerman plays the roles of soloist and conductor. His svelte and sweet tone is best heard in Williams' The Lark Ascending, a single-movement violin concerto all but in name. Its use of modal themes relives the hallowed tradition of English folk music, continuing into Fantasia On A Theme By Thomas Tallis, in which three string choirs are employed to resonant effect. Here is a cathedral of sound and a nod to the great English choral tradition.
Elgar is represented by his ubiquitous Salut D'Amour, once again with Zukerman doing the honours.
The strings players of the London-based Royal Philharmonic are excellent in the three-movement Serenade For Strings, and shorter pieces Chanson De Matin, Chanson De Nuit and In Moonlight (with Zukerman on viola), extracted from the tone poem, In The South.
This splendid album is completed by the virtuosic Introduction and Allegro, which highlights a string quartet amid a full body of strings. A feast of glorious strings beckons.
Chang Tou Liang