Saturday, November 16, 2013

CD Odyssey Disc 567: Lindi Ortega

This is the second straight album I chose to review an album under Rule #5, again so that I could also talk about the live show that accompanied it.

Disc 567 is…. Tin Star
Artist: Lindi Ortega

Year of Release: 2013

What’s up with the Cover?  Lindi is posing, arms akimbo, on some old chest, the tin star brazenly signaling her intent to conquer the music world.

Even more importantly, Lindi has autographed this album to Sheila and I (more on that later).  This is only the second time I’ve got an artist to autograph an album (the last time was Kate Fenner of the Bourbon Tabernacle Choir, on an album I reviewed back at Disc 320 LINK.  I was similarly enamoured of Kate back in the day but this time I avoided blushing like a school boy this time around.  I have no idea how.

How I Came To Know It:  I discovered Lindi Ortega about a year and a half ago while digging up Neko Case tracks on Youtube.  Lindi was a recommended artist and so I took a chance on the song “Cigarettes & Truckstops.”  I loved that song and Lindi’s website cleverly allowed me to stream the whole album.  When I saw how great she was I ran out and bought it without a moment’s hesitation.

“Tin Star” was just me snapping up her newest release when it came out, songs unheard. After hearing her two previous records, I knew it would be good.

How It Stacks Up:  We have three Lindi Ortega albums, “Tin Star”, “Cigarettes & Truckstops” and 2011’s “Little Red Boots.”  They are all amazing, but I’ll have to put “Tin Star” third best.  Still great, but competition is fierce.

Rating:  4 stars

Listening to Lindi Ortega’s third album I am left wondering for the hundredth time, “why is this artist not more famous?”  Lindi has consistently been putting out quality records for years and yet remains relatively unknown.  It really demonstrates that fame is very arbitrarily assigned, especially when I see some of the painfully bad new country acts that enjoy commercial success.

Ortega’s style is rooted in outlaw country, with a healthy helping of both blues and Canadian roots rock. Combined with her voice – which is equal parts sexy and powerful – the result is like nothing you’ve ever heard but I’ll take a stab at it and say she’s a cross between Emmylou Harris and Neko Case with maybe a hint of Gwen Stefani’s rock/punk edge.

“Tin Star” follows the fairly bluesy “Cigarettes & Truckstops,” and is a step back in the direction of more traditional country song constructions, albeit with a lot of modern arrangements that belie her obvious love for rock and alternative music.

Where on previous albums Ortega touched on the ephemeral nature of fame I noted earlier, on “Tin Star” it becomes the central theme.  Mercifully uninterested pointless, vacuous Nashville studio hits, Ortega instead is clearly inspired by her own experience, and not afraid to share those experiences in her writing.

The title track, “Tin Star” is a good example, and as far as I’m concerned what should be a classic country song for decades to come for the music alone.  Ortega juxtaposes her own tin star ‘beat up and rusty’ with the myriad stars of country music that she is surrounded by in the Nashville community.  The bridge of the song has her poignantly admit:

“Well if the music wasn’t running through the blood in my veins
I might just walk away, O I would walk away.
But the music keeps on running through the blood in my veins
And it just makes me stay, O it makes me stay.”

Other songs that follow upon this theme include the up-tempo and defiant “All These Cats” detailing the competitive nature of the music industry, and “Waiting On My Luck to Change” which feels like a cross between a forties standard and a Patsy Cline crooner.

The album explores the full range of love song themes as well because hey - the world can’t have enough love songs.  “Something for You” is a vulnerable and exposed song of longing whereas “I Want You” is the same vulnerability expressed as pure sexual desire.  Ortega has a siren’s voice that hint at rocks just under the surface of the water, but that would have you steer your boat onto the reef anyway.

This is Not Surreal” had me thinking of early Leonard Cohen songs like “Master Song” or “Who By Fire”, with its haunting flamenco guitar style, augmented with a Daniel Lanois-like echo in the production that really worked.

Voodoo Mama” was my least favourite.  It’s actually a good song, just not in my wheel house.  It celebrates New Orleans’ music tradition, both lyrically and instrumentally but I wasn’t feeling the pull like I do with some other classic Louisiana songs like Emmylou’s “Leaving Louisiana in the Broad Daylight” or Tom Petty’s “Louisiana Rain.”  Maybe I just like my Louisiana songs to be more depressing.  And on that note…

Lived and Died Alone” is a brilliantly brave and edgy song about necrophilia (yes, necrophilia) that reminded me of Alice Cooper’s “I Love the Dead” from a female perspective.  Whereas Cooper’s “I Love the Dead” is outward looking and sexually focused, “Lived and Died Alone” is more a tragic love song.  In it our heroine digs up corpses to sleep with because they are the only partners that she feels are as lonely as her, and therefore the only partner that can truly understand her.  It is creepy as hell, but I like creepy.

The album ends with “Songs About,” returning to Ortega’s compulsion to write and play music.  I hope she never loses that because she is head and shoulders above the vast majority of what is coming out of Nashville these days.  Never lose heart, Lindi – the Indigo Girls got rejected by Nashville (and wrote a kick ass song about it on their way out of town) and Leonard Cohen never even made it there, getting waylaid by the charms of New York along the way.  They both turned out pretty well.
Best tracks:   Hard as This, Tin Star, Lived and Died Alone, Something for You, All These Cats, Songs About

The Concert – November 14, 2013 at Lucky Bar

Lucky Bar as a venue is basically a big cavern, so to get a good spot you just have to forget about finding a table and go stand on the dance floor, which is what we did.
The opening act was Devin Cuddy (Jim Cuddy’s son, if you’re wondering). Vocally, I wished that he would sing into the higher register a bit more often, and I also wanted his songs to be a little more dynamic, but he is a pretty talented blues piano player and did well overall.  I wish he had a guitar accompanying him (and I think he wished the same, at one point exclaiming, “this song has a pretty extensive guitar section which you’ll just have to imagine”).  The lack of a band kept the arrangements a bit too sparse for the Bob Dylan/Ray Charles inspired folk-blues he was playing, but that wasn’t his fault.

When Lindi Ortega hit the stage the room felt instantly filled with the strength of her personality.  She has a great stage presence, and banter that borders on actual conversation with the audience.  Her persona is a cross between rock star and coquette and she wears it perfectly.  She also wears her little black dress and little red boots perfectly and it would be deeply dishonest of me if I didn’t note the obvious; Lindi Ortega is smokin’ hot.

Fortunately, her music is every bit the equal of her beauty.  The great voice I noted in the album review was on full display, and filled the relatively small venue.

The set list was well chosen, with a focus on her new material.  “Tin Star” was a particular favourite for me as well as the obvious and devilish joy she had singing the combative “All These Cats” – take that haters!

She doesn’t soft-pedal her edginess for a live audience, and I was thrilled when she sang “Lived and Died Alone” – even more thrilled when she acknowledged me when I shouted out the Alice Cooper lyric “I love the dead before they’re cold.”  (Before she started playing – I’m not a dick). I love a country girl who rocks the Alice Cooper vibe.

She only played about a half dozen songs from her earlier albums, but they were well chosen, standouts including “Angels,” “Little Lie” and a performance of “Little Red Boots” that had the attention of every man in the room, and more than a few of the women.

I also loved hearing “High” which is an unabashed song…getting high.  Greg Keelor would be proud, but I’m sure it is just the type of song that horrifies the country music establishment.  Good.

I would have liked to hear “Murder of Crows” but without a bass player (she only had drums and guitar accompanying her) I think it would have suffered.

I had been Youtubing Ortega a fair bit leading up to the show, so I knew she did a few covers as well, and the concert was no exception.  She played the hell out of Nancy Sinatra’s “Bang Bang (My Baby Shot Me Down)” and clearly enjoyed the over-the-top nature of the song as much as I do.  She also played the Eagles’ “Desperado” but it felt more like the Johnny Cash version to me (i.e. – better).  “Desperado” really showed off her vocal chops yet again.

The show was exceptional, and Ortega not only commands centre-stage, she obviously enjoys standing there.  Some artists tour just for the money, but you get the feeling that Ortega truly loves the fan interaction.

And special bonus points for taking time to meet the fans after the show was over.  She offered everyone a hug (I’m still kicking myself for forgetting to cash that cheque) and graciously let herself be photographed a dozen times.  When I finally got to the head of the receiving line I desperately wanted to discuss music, but instead I just blurted out how Sheila and I were both wearing little red shoes.  At least I thought to give her my blog card and got to put my arm around her waist.

I’m not sure Lindi Ortega lives for that fan interaction at the end (as Rush teaches us in “Limelight” there will always be a disconnect between the musician and the fan) but there is an undeniable warmth about her nonetheless as she takes the time to glad-hand with strangers.

So kudos to you, Lindi.  You are not only crazy talented and dead sexy – you are gracious to (little red) boot. 

You're going to know us by our little red boots!

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