Gaby Moreno presented her new album, “Postales”, with a show at Los Angeles’ Largo nightclub, turning the stage into a Pan-American honky-tonk with a big band featuring a string section, banjo and horns. Wearing a gold dress and a sequined flapper’s headband, Moreno belted blues, caressed boleros and rocked ballads, singing her own songs based on Guatemalan folk legends, old streetcar photos and her grandfather’s faded love letters.
“I’m going to be talking all in Spanish tonight,” Moreno told the crowd at the start of the show, before deciding instead to introduce each song in English.
The Guatemalan singer/songwriter could be forgiven for the confusion. “Postales”, on Metamorfosis, the label started last year by Ricardo Arjona, is Moreno’s first all-Spanish album, and it could well take her from being an artist with mainstream indie cred to Latin music’s newest female star.
A Los Angeles resident, Moreno released two previous bilingual records by herself, both featured on NPR’s local tastemaker station, noncommercial KCRW Los Angeles. She co-wrote the theme song for NBC’s “Parks and Recreation,” toured with feminist folkies Tracy Chapman and Ani DiFranco, and also performed in many non-Latin countries including France, Germany and Holland.
“I’ve always been very focused on the United States and Europe,” Moreno says. “I never had the resources or contacts to get to Latin America with my music.”
The 30-year-old artist performed in Mexico for the first time just this year, when she joined Arjona onstage for “Fuiste Tu,” a duet the pair recorded together for Arjona’s 2011 album, “Independiente”.
“Fuiste Tu” reached No. 1 on Billboard’s Latin Pop chart and No. 2 on the Hot Latin Songs tally. Moreno appeared with Arjona in stadiums around Latin America and at record-setting concerts in Guatemala, where he is the country’s biggest musical superstar.
“The pop audience really discovered Gaby on this tour,” says Paula Kaminsky, who runs Metamorfosis’ Miami offices. “The reaction in the stadiums when she came onstage for the duet was both amazing and unexpected.”
Moreno’s own material and visceral vocal range show her love for the blues, which she originally discovered during a family trip to New York when she was 13.
“I don’t want to be an artist that has to sing only Latin styles, because I’m in the Latin market,” she says. “My music is so heavily influenced by American music.”
“Postales” will likely find many fans among Latin-American audiences that have embraced artists like Adele and Norah Jones. Like those two performers, Moreno is a self-described “old soul” with a voice that recalls the great female singers of decades past. Perhaps most important, Moreno — who still shudders when she recalls a crash-and-burn disaster with a Latin major label early in her career — seems to have found the right company to introduce her to Latin America.
“We know it’s going to be a long run,” Kaminsky says. “Gaby has all the talent, and we have all the patience to make it happen.”