A Gibraltarian ex-pat now based in London (in 2022 he was awarded the title Cultural Ambassador of Gibraltar), Moreno is a published poet, with 12 books, in Spanish and English, to his name as well as two previous albums. Variously likened to (and influenced by) Cohen, Cave and Callahan (and, according to Cerys Matthews, Neil Diamond), he has a Latin temperament but, listening to him sing, his baritone voice and phrasing have me more often reminded of Charles Aznavour.
He borrows from another poet’s meditation on mortality in the opening piano-led slow sway ‘Growing Old’, paraphrasing TS Eliot’s The Love Song Of J. Alfred Prufrock in his opening line “Love, I’m growing old, I’ll wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled” and with its subsequent references to parting hair and mermaids singing, though, referring to his musician life, while dreams may be undone, he’s rather less defeatist (“I am sorry love but I can’t give up the fight!”).
The title track Wound In The Night, another piano (a 19th century Steinway grand as it happens) waltz, the Cohen comparisons evident, again sees life’s bruises (“There’s a crack in the skin of hope and belief”) but looks to find the arnica that will help heal (“Perhaps if we talk we can see what it is”) as the song addresses climate change and conflict (“the trees are breathing despair ‘coz some fools drilled holes in the air/And it’s raining in Kyev/but nothing is wet for what falls on the heads of women and men are the tears of a world torn by our greed and our lies”) where “only the rich have got tickets to flee”. There may be an inevitable, but he’s going to go out with a wine glass in his hand (“We know it will come but before we are done/can we toast to the ones who were broken and shunned”).
Even when love has turned on its heel, the glass is always half-full with drunken hope for reconciliation, as on ‘Nobody Knows Where We Are’ where he sings “Will you come back to me when magic finds its parking place?/I don’t care what mask you bring as long as we can dance again”, delivering another fine poetic turn of phrase in the refrain’s “we drank the wake of the stars”.
Holding in faith in nurturing nature, in the slow march beat ‘Where The Wild Winds Go’, a piano-based speak-sing reflection on ceaseless conflict (“they are planting liquid bombs in the patios of our future”) and the male impulse to violence (“did they start another war, just because their testicles were far too overgrown?”), he turns to the wild winds to blow out the fires (“can you show me your porticle where you silence the void with your spicey corazon”) because “The wind is a shore when your country is torn and you need a guiding grace”. Albeit ultimately, with a wry pragmatism, “all I want is to shift the storm/And maybe if we are getting on, we’ll dance the blues away”.
Turning more to guitar and Latin colours, ‘Retrograde’ finds him questioning the usefulness of words and music (“Are songs and poems just full of lies”) in “reading verse to all your friends/For keeping songs in old cassettes and thinking art might tear the veil”, especially in wooing change (“Please tell me now if it’s much too late to search for songs which raise the stakes, and if my voice your heart won’t wake, abandon me but please don’t fake it”), but, namechecking Keats, confesses of poetry “I need his voice more than dogs need bones”.
A stripped-back number with sparse acoustic guitar and semi-spoken lyrics ‘The Origami Bird’ has a Spanish musical mien and again talks of pain, the title a notion of art capturing life (“cut out from your dreams”), bringing optimism in the line “If winds and leaves can sing then surely you can find a voice where all your fears concede and you’re not always on the losing team”.
Things are more uptempo for the invective of the brisk rhythm ‘Shutters On Your Eyes’ which, with its bass, tumbling snares and electric guitar, pretty much sums itself up in the title, about being blinded by material things (“The mortgage flag you follow, your flat in Sleepy Hollow where you put up rich Apollos and in luxury you wallow”) and not seeing or wilfully ignoring the gathering darkness (“when the last bird drops its feathers will you think you were so clever/To sell lies from the caverns of your mind where the myths of you collapse, ‘coz even your merlot 1945 can’t make the darkness pass”).
Maya McCourt on cello behind the piano and slow fingerpicked guitar, things turn sparse again on the Cohen-haunted ‘Suzanne Valadon’, the title referring to the late 19th/early 20th century French artist noted for her bold use of colour (the album cover could be seen as a homage) on whom, suffering a creative block as he grows older and his heroes let him down, he calls as a muse (“I speak to the ghost of Suzanne Valadon to get help for this song coz my pipelines are blocked with the ruins of my time/The radio is tricked, it’s only plastic that sticks, my heroes are sick or only want gold to fill up the holes which once were their eyes”), though it seems to little effect (“I can’t hear what she says, she’s mumbling again, it seems nothing’s changed since the writers in town were paid by the page, the poets count stones in gardens and boats while jesters write odes to their own totem poles”). The answer, of course, is to focus on the art not the adulation, telling him “I am a fool, a thief and a mule for I am stuck to the stool of making the buck, if it’s not in your heart don’t stand in the line”.
The slow-tempo ‘Blurred Horizons’ returns to the theme of not listening to the lies and hiding behind a mask, the message succinctly summed up in “if you want to keep the fight/Don’t listen to the tiny minds”.
It ends on a musically upbeat note with the choppy piano and Latin swaying vibe of ‘London Town’, a song about missing a fellow feeling-dejected artist (“London town is hurting since you traveled back to Spain/There are men and women yearning for the theater in your veins/I know you felt unwanted but the city felt your pain/It’s just so hard to say it when you are chasing the class A’s”) and, advising “You carry your ruins wherever you go, if you are tired of this place/You’re tired of it all” as he exhorts them to return because “London is where it’s going on/Turn your back to those country roads/Welcome to the urban sprawl” with its street markets and flowershops.
Whether or not London is still the epicentre of the creative universe is open to debate, but there should be no argument that Moreno is keeping the heart beating and the pulse strong.
Artist’s website: www.gabrielmoreno.co.uk
‘Growing Old’ – official video:
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