Music Review: Gaby Moreno – Illustrated Songs

Hi all!

Recently I’ve been amazed by the seeming rebirth of a more classic sound – not quite Motown, but something close mixing R&B and soul with modern songwriting. Artists like Amy Winehouse, Joss Stone, Duffy and Adele remind me a bit of the soul music greats like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, and Gladys Knight. It was an era where you could feel the blues and gospel roots shining through and I think we’re starting to see that style again as new artists are gaining traction on the pop charts.

Gaby Moreno takes the bilingual skills of an artist like J. Lo and puts a bit of a Duffy/Adele spin on them without losing her own originality along the way. She’s capable of smooth ballads in Spanish and hot songs like “Mess a Good Thing.” Her new album, Illustrated Songs, is impossible for me to lump in one category however. It spans multiple genres and would sound just as at home in a French cabaret, a jazz club in New Orleans, or on “Top 40” radio. Though I compare her to Duffy and Adele, she both is similar and yet not at all similar to both artists.

To add to the confusion, I swear Moreno has one of the most genre-defying voices I’ve heard in a long time. In one song I’m reminded of the new soul movement, in another I’m reminded of Judy Garland, and in yet another I think her songs would seem at home in any Randy Newman-inspired Disney/Pixar movie soundtrack.

Of the dozen songs on the album, “Mess a Good Thing” is by far my favorite. The rocking soul guitar, strings and horn section behind her sultry voice just drive home that this woman has some serious soul. At no time did it feel like the song was out of her control, as can sometimes happen when you sing with such a large band. She knows she’s a good catch and her man won’t be leaving her: “Baby, you won’t be messing a good thing / Hurrying off with the break of day…” But though the lyrics may say he won’t be leaving her, her voice drives the point home hinting that if he does he’ll be in trouble!

But “Garrick” is one of those songs that just can’t leave my brain. The fact that she’s singing in Spanish makes no difference at all. It’s the amazing arrangement of strings, guitars, and clarinet that really makes this one groove. I can’t help but see her singing in front of a big band in some 1920s speakeasy or French cabaret. She’s just at home here as in her sultry soul mode, adding to the mysterious mix of genres she’s comfortable with.

And “Mean Old Circus” makes me think of some Judy Garland movie. The xylophones, circus organs, and her voice merge to provide yet another genre. She dons them as easily as changing hats. Beneath the kid-friendly sound however, there’s a darker purpose to the words – “A revelation …for conversation / A new permission for my religion / A sleeping lion’s lion dream /
In my forsaken evil schemes…” What is she really after here? Escaping to the circus may simply be a cover for more nefarious plans.

Evidently Gaby taught herself to speak better English by singing blues, R&B, and soul classics from artists such as Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. “I learned English from blues records. I’d read the lyrics, then go to my dictionary. In school, we studied basic English, but the records made me interested in learning it and singing it.”

Moreno is backed up by a terrific band featuring Sebastian Aymanns (drums), Leslie Lowe (bass) and an ensemble of renowned musicians including Greg Leisz (electric guitar, Mandolin, Lap Steel), Big Band leader Bob Mintzer (bass clarinet), Larry Goldings (celeste, piano), Patrick Warren (piano, keyboards), Mark Goldenberg (guitars) David Piltch (upright bass), Conan O’Brien’s horn section – Mark Pender (trumpet), Jerry Vivino (tenor sax), Richard “La Bamba” Rosenberg (trombone), and Adam Schroeder (baritone sax) – and string, horn and woodwind arrangements by Paul Bryan (Aimee Mann, Grant Lee Phillips and Amy Correia ). It’s a huge band that reminds me of the big band era of the 1940s but has all the other genres and playing styles at their beck and call as well.

Gaby Moreno seems to be a lady out of time brining classic ’40s, ’50s, ’60s, and other styles back to the people. If you’re looking for something to wile away a lazy Sunday, Illustrated Songs should be on your list to pick up. I love it when modern artists seek to rejuvenate the past and can’t wait to see what else lies in store for her. Illustrated Songs will be released on April 5, 2011 with a tour to follow. To learn more check out Gaby’s website.

This article first appeared at BlogCritics.org here.

–Fitz

p.s. Pick up these great albums below!

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Music Review: 2009 GRAMMY Nominees CD

Hey all…

Every year the GRAMMY Awards come around and prove once again that I am listening to the wrong radio stations. The 2009 collection is no different. The 2009 GRAMMY Nominees CD includes an amazing cross-section of the radio waves, some of which I hadn’t heard before listening to the CD!

2008 was a great year for pop, rock, and R&B artists across the board, and on February 8, 2009, we’ll know who wins in the usual categories: Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Female Pop Vocal Performance, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Coldplay’s album and song “Viva La Vida” is up in multiple categories, including Record of the Year, Album of the Year, Song of the Year, and Best Pop Performance by a Duo or group with Vocals. It’s amazing how many times I’ve seen amateur renditions of this song on YouTube this year.

Next we have Estelle with her song “American Boy” (featuring Kanye West) off her album Shine. “American Boy” is up for Song of the Year and faces some stiff competition in the category.

After that we have Sara Bareilles “Love Song” released as a single in 2008, which is up for Song of the Year and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. “Love Song” has received a ton of play on my local radio stations, and I have to admit it’s pretty catchy. I haven’t checked out the rest of her album Little Voice, but hope to do so.

Ne-Yo’s album Year of the Gentleman is up for Album of the Year. You’ll find the first track, “Closer” on the Nominees CD.

And Ne-Yo is competing with Lil Wayne for Album of the Year. Lil Wayne’s album Tha Carter III is represented on the CD by “Got Money”, which also features T-Pain.

One of my own favorite albums of the year, Raising Sand by Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, is up for Album of the Year and Record of the Year. The song “Please Read the Letter” is on the CD represents the album and shows the fruit of this amazing duo.

Radiohead, another great group with staying power, is up for Album of the Year with In Rainbows. “House of Cards” is on the CD and proves that Radiohead still has what it takes to create amazing music.

Lady Antebellum came on the country music scene last year and is up for Best New Artist. Their song “Love Don’t Live Here” from their self-titled album is on the CD.

The Jonas Brothers are also up for Best New Artist. Their song “Burnin’ Up” is off their album A Little Bit Longer. This is a hugely popular group at my eldest daughter’s elementary school.

Jazmine Sullivan is another artist up for Best New Artist. Her album Fearless is represented on the CD with her song “Need U Bad.”

Also in the running for Best New Artist and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance is Duffy. Her song “Mercy” haunted me for a while until I discovered who sang it. It’s off Duffy’s album Rockferry and has a distinct rock/soul vibe.

In the running for Record of the Year is M.I.A.‘s album Kala. You’ll find the song “Paper Planes” on the Nominees CD.

Competing for “most nominations” with Coldplay is Adele, who is up for Song of the Year, Best New Artist, Record of the Year, and Best Female Pop Vocal Performance. Her album 19 is represented by the song “Chasing Pavements” on the CD.

Katy Perry is another artist who gets a ton of airplay on our local radio stations here, with “I Kissed a Girl” (off her album One of the Boys) being very popular. Perry is up for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Leona Lewis‘ song “Bleeding Love” is another of those heard regularly around here. Her album Spirit is up for Record of the Year and she’s up for best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

My wife is a fan of Pink’s song “So What” from her album Funhouse. Pink is up for Best Female Pop Vocal Performance.

Gnarls Barkley is back with a new album The Odd Couple. Their song “Going On” can be found on the CD and they are up for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Onerepublic is also quite popular on our local radio stations, and I’ve heard “Apologize” reguarly over the last few months. The song is on their album Dreaming Out Loud and the group is up for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals.

Also up for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals is Maroon 5 with their latest album It Won’t Be Soon Before Long (love the title!). Their song “Won’t Go Home Without You” can be found on the Nominees CD.

And finally, the Eagles released their first new album in quite a while — Long Road Out of Eden. This amazing group is up for Best Pop Performance by a Duo or Group with Vocals as well, with their song “Waiting In the Weeds” on the Nominees CD.

So as you can see, it’s quite a cross-section of the music industry again this year. I wish there were more independent artists represented, but they often don’t have the marketing money to make that possible. Even so, there is still a ton of great music on the Nominees CD. I’d encourage you to pick up a copy and take a listen before the GRAMMY Awards show on February 8, 2009 on CBS! I know I’ll be watching!

Also be sure to check out the GRAMMY website for more information about all of these artists and The Academy.

–Fitz

p.s. Check out the album here: 

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