On Moorea Masa’s debut collaboration with J. Most, she moves into her R&B realm with a clean, crisp, almost symphonic song with plenty of room for fingersnaps, strings and sumptuous harmonies. Finding space to grow, listen now and stay tuned for more new sounds from Masa.
Every garden goes through its cycle of life. There’s the zenith of growth in summer, a gentle decline and falling away in autumn, a death or mere sleep in winter, and rebirth again in spring. So it has been for folk-soul singer Moorea Masa herself and her newly released track, “The Garden.”
Seeds of this song have been sown in various forms beginning with an acoustic performance set in a field of wildflowers as part of Chuck Johnson’s Humboldt Live Sessions in the fall of 2015 . . .
As the duo return to Portland to perform their love songs at a sold-out show on June 3 at the Aladdin Theater, Vortex chats with Jesca Hoop about the co-creation of an album of duets with Iron & Wine’s Sam Beam.
Some love letters we keep to remind us we are loved. Others, we burn to forget that we were broken by another. But the inspiration behind Love Letter for Fire, a collaborative album between Sam Beam of Iron & Wine and singer-songwriter Jesca Hoop was not to remember or to forget—it was to reinvent. In this case, a 13-track album full of love song duets.
Like most loving endeavors, it began simply and in earnest—Beam and Hoop were fans of each other’s music. Beam had always wanted to make a record like this one with a female partner as an homage to the classic duets he grew up hearing on the radio. He went through Hoop’s catalogue on iTunes and was struck by the album Kismet. Meanwhile, Hoop was finishing her fourth record at the time and had never co-written. Hoop admitted familiarity with Beam’s music “because it had cleaned my house many times,” she remarks. So after a proper amount of mutual admiration, Beam decided he wanted to get to know Hoop better and invited her on tour, and the album was subsequently written throughout 2014.
In their 30-plus years as a band, Indigo Girls have increasingly turned their attention to social causes.
Indigo Girls have been in the music scene since the ’80s, experimenting with their sound, enduring worldwide touring, and outlasting many of their female acoustic-based folk rock contemporaries. Amy Ray and Emily Saliers boast a long-lasting girlhood friendship, 16 albums, more than 35 years of writing, arranging, recording and performing together as a duo, and a Grammy for their self-titled album, which contains their signature song, “Closer to Fine,” featuring earnest lyrics and finely woven vocal harmonies delivered with equal parts fire and grace—a distinctive quality that longtime fans have come to cherish.
Separately, they’ve released solo albums and embarked on successful personal projects—Ray founded a record company and a nonprofit organization that promotes independent musicians, while Saliers scored a film, opened a restaurant and cowrote a book with her father. But their accomplishments have expanded because of the music they make together—and beyond it—into the realm of political activism. Indigo Girls’ commitment to social justice issues, humanitarian concerns and environmental causes can be heard in their musical themes and seen as personal action. Together with Winona LaDuke, Ray and Saliers founded the nonprofit Honor the Earth to raise awareness and financial support for indigenous environmental justice.
The singer-songwriter stepped away from music to pursue an M.F.A. in fiction and returned with her most personal sonic document.
“I’ve taken to exploring the land around me, finding lakes hidden in the pine trees, getting lost, learning to feel comfortable not knowing where I’m going,” wrote Laura Gibson from an A-frame cabin in the mountains of central Oregon during the winter of 2013. Equipped with snowshoes and solitude, Gibson was focusing on her fourth album while also taking time out to teach songwriting to middle and high school kids in Sisters, Ore. Those thematic echoes of teaching, pine trees, solitude, being lost, and searching for a dark lake would reverberate on her new album, Empire Builder.
Gibson didn’t initially think of herself as a writer. “I had great science teachers and math teachers but I didn’t know what words could do,” she explains. “It wasn’t until I started writing songs that I grew myself into a writer. It was only a few years ago I started to believe that I might be able to write something outside of music.”
With that belief, she boarded a train headed east on the famous Empire Builder Amtrak route. She left behind her boyfriend, family, friends and her Portland music community to teach undergraduate writing and pursue an M.F.A. in creative writing at Hunter College in New York City.
The Brothers Comatose: Alex (left) and Ben (right) Morrison. Photo by Jessie McCall
Ahead of their performance at Revolution Hall on March 12, Vortex spoke with brothers Alex and Ben Morrison by phone, covering topics from the rapid evolution of their home base, San Francisco, to wilderness exploration.
The Brothers Comatose are nothing like what their name implies. Actual brothers Ben and Alex Morrison on guitar, banjo and lead vocals deliver energetic bluegrass-folk shows with a backing ensemble—described by Ben as “a Southwestern-tinged, rowdy string band”—that includes Gio Benedetti on upright bass, Philip Brezina on fiddle and Ryan Avellone on mandolin. As for the “comatose,” while playing the banjo, Alex gets so deep into the music that his eyes roll back in his head—hence the origin of their name.
City Painted Gold is their newly released third album, written in and about San Francisco and crowdfunded through Kickstarter with a hilarious video of them trying and failing at musical styles before finding their sound. Fine musicianship and playful humor are hallmarks of their performances, but when you get right down to it, the brothers and their string band are as friendly and fun-loving as they come and always deliver a raucous hoedown dance party.
With her eponymous EP due out May 27, Moorea Masa will celebrate its release on May 31 at Mississippi Studios. Until then, enjoy the video for the title track. Photos by Jason Quigley
Moorea Masa has been in her studio space at the Falcon Art Community in North Portland for just over a month and she’s been spending a lot of time there lately—meeting fellow artists, assembling musicians for her upcoming EP release of Oh Mother on Sunday, May 31 at Mississippi Studios, and putting the wraps on a very beautiful, very personal, very Oregon video for the title track. All of this is to honor the passing of a dear friend’s mother, and motherly figure to Masa, Marcia Jean Barrentine.
From backing Ural Thomas and The Decemberists, the soul-folk singer strikes out on her own for the first time with a new EP of time-honored material. Photos by Tor Clausen
It’s a windy night as I climb the porch to a pale yellow house, the color of first daffodils in spring—a spring that’s come early to Portland. Moorea Masa greets me warmly and invites me into her kitchen for tea as she finishes cooking a meal for herself. A smallish cat named Hafiz, a nod to the Sufi mystic and poet, paces around, mewling for the food dish to be filled. In between bites and the wayward, headbutting affections of Hafiz, Masa tells me tales of her family, her musical travels, her new soul-folk EP, Oh Mother, and how a soul singer comes to be named after a beautiful, heart-shaped island in French Polynesia called Mo’ore’a, which means “yellow lizard” in Tahitian.
Masa’s Italian father and German-born mother both worked on a cruise ship in their youth. “My grandmother asked them, ‘Well, what was your favorite island?’” It was the one they met on—the island of Mo’ore’a—that became the name they gave their child.
Joined by Storm Large, Erika Moen and friends on her ‘The Art of Asking’ book tour, Palmer’s stop at the Wonder Ballroom featured heartfelt book readings, musical performances and humorous, insightful and delicious discussion. Photos by Chelsea Gaya
The wildly decorated people stood in the bleak cold, queued up in what could have been a fancy beggars breadline and looking as if the circus or the Comic Con had just let out for the night… but the show was just about to start.
The warm and eclectic crowd, smelling of musk, fur, incense and leather, pushed their way into the Wonder Ballroom on November 19—a gorgeous herd of afghan covered gypsies, finger-gloved and lip-pierced, wrapped in kimonos, wearing peacock feather fascinators. They were darkly clad, tribal-tattooed, bustiered, crow-black coiffed and mohawked. Some wore layers of tablecloth hiked up for skirts, some sported jackets fit for a white linen dinner. One girl, a bony bride in a skeleton sweatjacket, paraded past with a mass of cotton candy magenta-colored hair crowned by a headband of black flowers with a flowing, spidery veil. They came in pageboy and bowler hats armed with ukuleles. They were circus beauties and sideshow outcasts, a fanciful, freakish canvas of carnival color, and they were all here to see the woman who they were imitating in their costumed incarnations of her many looks. Miss Amanda Fucking Palmer.