acoustic · banjo · world

VOCO: Live in Atascadero

Last week Joyce and I drove out to Atascadero to a horse ranch owned by the family of local-hero jazz singer Inga Swearingen for a night of beautiful songs and world rhythms. This inspiring house concert was a double-bill split equally between Inga and “post-folk” vocal group VOCO. The appeal of a house concert for a folkie like me is its intimacy: the ability to hear natural, unamplified voices and instruments so close you could reach out and touch them. In this case, we got two bands for the price of one, and refreshments to boot!


The show opened with Inga Swearingen, supported by her sister Britta (also a brilliant vocalist) as well as her guitarist and bassist, both wicked good jazz players. I could go on for days about how good these folks are, but I’m no jazz expert and I’m here to introduce you to your new favorite band: VOCO.

Based in the LA area and led by singer Moira Smiley, VOCO consists of Jess Basta (vocals), Christine Enns (vocals), and Jessica Catron (vocals, cello). Moira sings, of course, and plays accordion and banjo, and all four ladies do some amazing body percussion. Their repertoire spans a broad spectrum of world roots sources, including the eastern European and Appalachian traditions. Most of their set featured acapella numbers with complex harmonies and interesting time signatures, with occasional accompaniment by cello, banjo, and accordion. By what I’ve heard so far, their new record will be a grand collection of joyous Americana-flavored songs. Its due out by fall and the working title is “Circle, Square, Diamond, and Flag,” after the symbols used to notate shape-note tablature.

My favorite song was an original piece penned by Moira and appearing on her solo record “Rua” — a song called “The House that Jack Built.” Moira teaches vocal workshops across the USA, and she ended the evening by calling up Inga and Britta for an extended audience-participation vocal improvisation. All in all, it was a wonderful night of hearing new music, making new friends, and just feeling alive. Isn’t that what folk music is all about?

VOCO CDBaby (listen/buy)

Moira Smiley CDBaby (listen/buy)

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