Gaby Moreno’s show at Bardot Tuesday was not just a lovely musical experience, but a sweet (dare I say inspiring) example of an artist completely comfortable in her own skin. Apropos of her love of louche jazz and sultry blues from the 20’s and 30’s, she wore a flapper-esque dress and headband.
Lucky for her, there was a National Recording Academy local music mixer right before her set, and her Miami pick-up band (one rehearsal!) included the likes of guitarist Dan Warner, who you’ve likely never heard of but who has played on just about every record made in Miami in the last 20 years, and drummer Lee Levin (I have to give him props – buncha thousand years ago, we were part of the same biblical tribe). Producer/songwriter Tommy Torres (Ricky Martin, Alejandro Sanz, yadda yadda), piano man and songwriter Jacob Jeffries, Recording Academy Florida executive director Neil Crilly, were all in the house.
Moreno knocked them all out. She belted like Bessie or Janis, wields a blues rock guitar like whiskey slugging 70’s rocker (“I feel naked without my guitar” she said, when two strings broke and she had to surrender it to a musical Samaritan Jimmy Powers for an on-the-spot fix).
But she’s also capable of a sultry, velvety, speakeasy whisper, or singing sweet and pure enough to drop the jaws of the music veterans there. Or making the chestnut Quizas, Quizas, Quizas sly, cool and surprisingly contemporary. My favorites of the night: Mean Old Circus and Ave Que Emigra, both on her new, second CD, Illustrated Songs.
All that because at 13 Moreno saw an African-American woman singing blues on the street in New York. “Something inside me just went AH!” she said. Certainly, it wasn’t like anything she heard growing up in Guatemala. The lady told her the amazing new music was called blues, so Moreno went straight to a store and bought blues compilations.
At home in Guatemala she put up posters of those mainstream teen idols, Koko Taylor and John Lee Hooker.
“Everyone thought I was an alien,” Moreno giggled. But she didn’t question her love of the music or her right – as a middle-class white Latina from Central America – to sing the blues (or bluesy jazz). “Who says you have to be black? It’s a form of expression. Like in painting, you find a style that you hang onto. For me in music, it was this.”