Maria Marquez Eleven Love Stories/Once Cuentos de Amor

Last year it was Peru's Susana Baca who set North American audiences on their ear with her smouldering torch songs. Three years ago it was Brazilian Virginia Rodrigues, she of the otherworldly contralto, who suddenly entranced more northern shores. Maria Marquez might just be the Latin diva to break through this year. A staple of the Bay Area's vibrant and continually hybridising Latin music scene, Marquez is a native of Caracas whose music is steeped in Venezuelan boleros - mournful, sparsely adorned songs that she brushes with strokes of jazz, bossa nova and classic, noir-ish torch singing. Apparently, she has developed a devoted following in her adopted home of Oakland, CA, and it's not hard to see why. These songs ache with their longing, without sinking into self-abasement - a dignity that's all but missing in the whole realm of what passes for divas these days, namely whinging narcissists or crass over-singers who wouldn't be able to find "nuance" in a dictionary. Then again, if you're looking for nuance, you can find it right here. (Rykopalm)