Since moving to Los Angeles from her native Guatemala, singer-songwriter Gaby
Moreno has achieved remarkable success as a musician. She has been nominated for
an Emmy and won a Latin Grammy for Best New Artist. She has released four albums,
toured with singers Tracy Chapman, Ani DiFranco, Punch Brothers, Hugh Laurie and
Calexico, and has shared the international stage with pop music luminaries such as
Bono, Andrea Boccelli and Van Dyke Parks.
In 2006, her song, “Escondidos,” took the top prize in the John Lennon Songwriting
Contest, the first contestant in the Latin category to win Song of the Year. (She’s now a
judge.) That opened many more doors. Her first album, “Still the Unknown” , produced
independently was released in 2008.
Moreno’s career started moving quickly. She co-wrote the theme song of the television
series “Parks and Recreation,” which was nominated for an Emmy in 2010. That same
year, she recorded the classic song “Smile,” by Charlie Chaplin, for the Oscar-winning
documentary “The Cove.” And she performed “Toast to Freedom,” a song
commemorating the 50th anniversary of Amnesty International, first with Kris
Kristofferson on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, then in Dublin where she shared the
stage with Angelique Kidjo and Bono.
She released her second album, “Illustrated Songs” in 2011, followed by “Postales.” in
2012, her first release entirely in Spanish and with Metamorfosis, the label founded by
her compatriot Ricardo Arjona, one of Latin America’s most prominent singersongwriters.
. That year, Moreno and Arjona released a duet, “Fuiste Tu,” which was
nominated for Song of the Year and Record of the Year in the 13th Annual Latin
Grammy Awards.
By the time Moreno was named Best New Artist in the 14th annual Latin Grammy
Awards of 2013, the “newcomer” had already almost spent half her life in the music
When it came time to record her latest album, “Ilusión” (due for release September 9th),
Moreno decided it was time to harken back to beginnings. Musically, the new album
captures the pure spirit of the aspiring immigrant artist who made her way in a new
country with just her guitar, her gifted voice, and a pocketful of songs she was eager to
“I wanted the record to sound as authentic and as close as possible to what the band
sounds live,” she says, referring to her longtime collaborators. “I said, ‘Okay, let’s go
back to the sound when I put out my first album, when it was just a few musicians in a
room together, and it was about having fun and capturing performances. I wanted
something human. I’m not a robot. I wanted to embrace the imperfections. That’s
human. Maybe in the moment, I’m feeling something that’s making my voice break. It’s
raw emotion. I wanted to keep that.”
And she succeeded. The new collection of 13 songs, most of which she wrote or cowrote,
reflect the organic mixture of her wide array of influences, from the blues to
boleros. The record’s natural sound reflects the analog philosophy of producer Gabe
Roth, co-founder of Brooklyn-based Daptone Records, the independent label
specializing in what it calls the “New Sound of Old Soul.” That’s a slogan that happens
to suit the singer to a tee.
“I don’t want to sound like an old record, but there’s something about those old records
that I love, especially that warm sound,” says Moreno. “This is why I wanted to go into
the studio for this new record with Gabe Roth. Because of his minimalist approach. He
doesn’t use any computers, it’s all his ears. We did it all to tape, using these beautiful
old vintage microphones, and playing all together in the same room. So you don’t have
the luxury of doing 20 takes for every song. We do three takes and choose the best one
out of the three. It was kind of nerve-racking… but it sounds so real.”
The album includes separate Spanish and English versions of the first single, “Se
Apagó/Love Is Gone,” a song of heartbreak with a twangy guitar, a bright brass section
and a feel of Southern soul. Nashville-based R&B singer Jonny P joins her on their
English duet, a couple’s dialog.
Moreno’s uplifting, hymn-like “Fronteras,” which means borders, reveals a theme of
hope in the midst of darkness. In a time of persecution of immigrants, the song extends
a hand of camaraderie for those who leave everything behind to pursue their dreams.
The bilingual refrain captures the essence of “Ilusión” and the composer’s confident,
mature state of mind when she created it: “And I laugh and dance. It’s in my blood. And
I dream free. This is where I belong.”
Y río y bailo / Está en mis venas / Y libre sueño