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Two worlds collide

Felicia and Poeina join forces to form Felina

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In the fall of 2002, two buskers met for the first time on Broadway Street in Seattle. Both were performing in order to raise money. Felicia Figueroa, originally from Arizona, was touring the country with her dog Tobin, and she was singing on the street corner to raise money to get to their next stop. Poeina Suddarth happened to be there singing to raise money to pay her rent.

As Suddarth passed by, Figueroa noticed the guitar slung over her back and asked to hear her play. Moments later she started playing along and something clicked. From that moment on, the two were inseparable and soon combined their names (Felicia and Poeina) to form Felina.

For four years the two toured extensively, for all practical purposes living in a van, playing music at venues on the East Coast, West Coast and anyplace in between. Up until four months ago, they didn’t even have a permanent residence. They called the road their home. Now they hang their hats in Portland, but that doesn’t mean they will no longer tour. “We are just going to stick to the West Coast, places near by, until we get some sort of management,” says Suddarth.

Felina’s CD, Let Me Tell You a Story, is a breath of fresh air. It takes quite a bit of artistry to create something completely unique, and Felina has done it. This record is a sea of surprises. First of all, the vocals have a quirkiness that could be compared to Regina Spektor and Bjork. The Russian influence comes from Suddarth’s very strict Russian vocal teacher, Ludmila Tretzakova, who taught her when she was a young member of the Seattle Girls Choir. This discipline seems to have paid off because Suddarth’s voice has lots of range and emotional depth. She has the control of an opera singer, the tenderness of a folk singer, and the unleashed power of a woman scorned.

The album seems to have a recurring theme of violence against women, which explains why the duo was invited to perform at The Evergreen State College during its April Sexual Assault Prevention Month event on April 13.

The album’s introductory track, “Amelia,” is a respectful requiem to a murdered prostitute. Since they never actually met the woman, or found out the details of her death, the song is a series of questions. It has nice studio effects such as the crackle of vinyl and a telephone filter on the lead vocals making it sound like a vintage recording. The clacking together of two beer bottles is the only percussion, and acoustic guitar and cello are the only instruments.

In several songs, the Latina background of both women comes through. For example, passages from a poem Figueroa wrote in Spanish are recited in the song “Brick Buffalo.”  Figeroa explains that it’s a story about Juarez, Mexico, where several American-owned sweatshops employ a lot of women from the region. According to Figueroa, women frequently have a way of ending up in the desert brutally raped and dismembered, and neither the American or Mexican governments are doing anything to discover who is responsible. The song is hauntingly beautiful with lush harmonies washing over one another in waves.

The song “Inoculation” could be mistaken for a spacey song about a heroine trip, but actually it’s about a secret spot deep in the Red Mountains of Arizona near Bryce Canyon. In the studio, Felina’s producer, Smoke (of old Dominion), added a synthetic bubble effect that gives the song a beautiful, otherworldly edge. He also added a sort of modulator effect to the acoustic guitars creating another interesting and unexpected dimension to the song. Figueroa and Suddarth say they chose to work with Smoke on their album because they knew he wouldn’t simply produce it as just another folk album. He drew from his R&B/DJ background to make something completely unique. The combined genius of these three artists makes Let Me Tell You a Story a Disneyland-worthy ride of an album.

From the choir-ific song, “Road Warrior,” to the jazzy “1,2,3,4,” the silly childlike “Monkey Song,” the mysterious “Phantom” song, and the skatty “Grrrl,” — the album keeps you guessing from start to finish. In their live show, Figueroa and Suddarth work as a duo singing together and taking turns playing guitar, bass and hand drums. The two of them perform dressed in theatrical clothing from the costume trunk that follows them wherever they go. Just like their album, their live show will catch you by surprise at every turn.

[The Evergreen State College, Friday, April 13, 8 p.m., all ages, no cover, 2700 Evergreen Pkwy. N.W., Olympia, 360.867.6000]

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