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FAME Review: Moira Smiley & VOCO - Laughter out of Tears

Though Laughter out of Tears covers a lot of bases from Moira Smiley's own work to Gillian Welch's to Robert Johnson's to a cross blend of European and American traditionals, the overall tone is Balkano-Celtic, and her sonorities compare very favorably to Enya, Clannad, Les Voix, and similar efforts. The CD's title derives from the loss and grief experienced when Smiley's father passed, followed by healing and renewal, but I was particularly caught by her own words in I Live in California:

I'm in a river of ten million people, we're all trying to get home
Why are we all a'swarmin' round the same sweet honeycomb
For the honey is sweet and bitter. Our hunger sings a siren song
We are lotus eaters, waiting…

Philosophical and then some, but this bent is later transitioned in the earthy Steam Engines:

Keep your engines runnin', love! Cat purring, sleek and sly
Why walk when you can drive the rhythm down—oh my my!
Canteloupe sweet and just as sticky. Dance jiggy, don't deny
Hot floor and now she's kicking the rhythm down—oh my my!
Time to break the floorboards, honey. Hip hop the top hat flies
Leave it all so you can fly the rhythm down—oh my my!
Runnin' runnin' runnin'

That is presaged even more explicitly in the preceding Whistle Daughter Whistle. From Sartre to Nin, quite a shift, but this is what the inspected life must be, one minute studying Voltaire, the next flirting with Casanova. Those of us who can locate mates to share such pleasures are fortunate and rare indeed, God himself only knows, and whether you boast of such excellent luck or share lament over lack, there's more than a little to ponder in this CD's fare. Whence, then, such spirit and acumen as Moria's? Well, she's has worked with Paul Hillier, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, tUnE-yArDs, KITKA, and others and has covered the music topography from Stockhausen to whatever Silas Marner might have penned.

Voice, though, is the center of her world and you get plenty of it here, featuring various choral groups behind her as well as the VOCO ensemble. Woody Guthrie's Deportee is the most modernized cut but also reaches way back to Gregorian and pre-Gregorian days in Smiley's hands, kind of a summation of everything hapening in Laughter out of Tears.