Sounds like: The point where hopeful whimsy meets potential heartbreak.
For fans of: Phox, Emily King, Feist, Jill Scott.
At 22, Moorea Masa's music career has already taken quite a few turns. She trained with a gospel pastor. She lived in a cave for six months with flamenco guitarists. She appeared on American Idol. Most recently, she sang backup in the feel-good soul orchestra Ural Thomas and the Pain and for indie-folk brainiacs the Decemberists.
"Sometimes, I feel like I have split personalities," says the Portland native, laughing.
On her debut solo EP, Masa attempts to unite all of her disparate experiences and influences. Oh Mother is a luscious fusion of soul and folk, weaving gentle acoustic guitar, strings and piano under Masa's powerful alto, with lyrics focusing on change and finding beauty in nature. Most songs on the album were written while Masa was in the Ruby Pines, a duo she formed with singer-guitarist Michael Backus in 2007. After the group broke up last summer, Masa opted to try out the songs on her own, learning to play guitar and teaming with a group of local musicians—including Black Prairie's Jon Neufeld—to bring them to life.
"I just really wanted to finish them," Masa says. "Put them out and give them a life and then be able to move on from them." During the recording process, however, Masa found the material transformed. "A lot of these songs have taken another meaning," she says. "I had a woman who was like a mom to me pass away in the middle of recording these, so a lot of them kind of shifted their meaning and became about honoring her."
It's a legacy she pays tribute to throughout the album, from the cover art—an illustration modeled after that mother figure—to recurring references to birds, a nod to the paper birds the woman used to hang on string around her art studio.
"That's what we do as artists, right?" Masa says. "We take whatever is going on in our lives and transform it into cohesive art that is a way of processing. Hopefully, others can take from it.â
SEE IT: Moorea Masa plays Mississippi Studios, 3939 N Mississippi Ave., with Luz Elena Mendoza and Catherine Feeny, on Sunday, May 31. 8 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.