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Everything on Gaby Moreno’s new release (her second) sounds old. Moreno is a bilingual artist who was raised in Guatemala. As a performer she’s a retro dynamo. Several of her Spanish songs draw on bossa nova beats and ranchero-style singing, but most sound like Latin-laced versions of the kind of small combo songs found on the soundtracks of Depression Era movies. That is, except for “Ave que Emigra,” her semi-autobiographical song about leaving Guatemala for New York; she makes no bones about the fact that Do Diddley was her influence on that one. I’d also hazard a guess that some Johnny Cash snuck in subconsciously. When Moreno switches to English, her whole demeanor changes. She’s still retro, but it’s a Motown well from which she draws. The slightly coquettish tones of her Spanish songs give way to lusty, big-voiced numbers. Check out “Mess a Good Thing” and you might think she morphed into Aretha Franklin! (Though she again throws us for a loop with the odd little song, “Mean Old Circus,” which evokes an 1890s musical hall.)
Whether all of this showcases her versatility or leaves her foundering for a clear musical identity is up for debate, but I found her an intriguing talent and admired her willingness to take chances. She’s an unsigned artist at present, but I doubt that will last long. Check out her Webpage; there are some samples there.