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Blown Away by VOCO

~ Venue - One Longfellow Square, Portland, Maine - August 7, 2009 ~

Aug 11, 2009
Kimmy Sophia Brown

Last night I had the honor of seeing Moira Smiley and VOCO at One Longfellow Square in Portland Maine. Without a doubt it was one of the most astounding live performances I’ve ever witnessed. These four women interpreted songs using their voices and bodies to vocalize liquid prayers, intricate waterfalls, bold visions, tender murmurings and clattering, percussive, stompings of joy. They evoked a glimpse into the ancient tradition of how our common human ancestors must have sung their hearts out under the stars in forests, villages and farms. The amount of thought, study and practice that they must have invested was only surpassed by the harmonic and spiritual depths that the actual singing reached right before our eyes and ears.

Their repertoire included Appalachian Shape Note Hymns that were sung with power and heart, intricate and eerie arrangements of compositions by Bela Bartok, Eastern European folk songs, and Moira’s own extremely unusual and gorgeous compositions. One in particular that was just stunning was a song she wrote at age eighteen, called, “How Can I Cry?” which sympathizes with the oppressed people who do not complain. Peter and I cried during that one.

Moira Smiley, dressed like a mod, Yardley girl from the 1960’s, in cap and long hair, simple short dress and boots and fishnet stockings with stars, explained the origin of many of the songs, and also the circumstances around their composition. She was joined by the lovely and sultry Jess Basta, who had a gorgeous alto voice, the Nordicly pretty Jessica Catron, who was wonderful on cello and vocals, and the delicate and adorable Christine Enns-Tavares also on vocals. All wore dresses and boots as well.

They stood, confident in their bodies, using dance and body percussion and their instruments and voices, adapting to the now in such moments as when, during the body percussive dance, “Gumboots”, Jessica nudged her cello accidentally and it moved slightly and their song suddenly became a series of “Uh Ohs” – silly and funny and quick on the uptake.

The women’s singing group, Full Circle, from Brunswick, Maine, joined them on stage for another of Moira’s compositions called “Our Time”. The Holy Spirit descended on that one.They also did two of Kate Wolf’s songs, “Carolina Pines”, and “The Lilac and the Apple Tree”.

As an interesting side note, Moira mentioned the fact that she was home schooled. Ironically, when we home schooled our children, we watched and loved the David Attenborough DVD, “The Life of Birds”. I read on her website that Moira provided the voice behind the music on that documentary. We loved the music on that DVD and we’ve been searching for the soundtrack for years. (We still can’t find it, and if you have it and want to sell it, let me know!)

I was fascinated by the command that Moira in particular had with her body as she sang, reaching out with her arms as if pulling spirits out of the air and infusing them into the notes like an alchemist concocting a musical brew. VOCO has turned the corner on how music is defined, challenging comfort zones, predictability and the same-sounding dross that permeates the music industry. It is so refreshing to hear music that defies genre and could probably appeal to almost any demographic group on earth. In fact, I wish everyone on earth could see and hear them – they were that good. It was truly an honor to be in attendance.

They can be contacted at http://www.moirasmiley.com, and http://www.myspace.com/vocoinfo.

For music lovers visiting Portland, Maine, I highly recommend
One Longfellow Square ~ "Portland's Premier Arts Venue"
Check them out at onelongfellowsquare.com.

Kimmy Sophia Brown has loved humor and music and freedom for as long as she can remember.She is especially passionate about the environment and caring for animals.

She writes the column "From the Back Porch" as well as reviews of music in her column "MusicViews". Her goal in her music reviews is to introduce music she loves to people who may not have heard that particular artist or CD. For information about how to submit a CD for review, click here.

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