The Americana A-Z is sometimes a means to celebrate a legend of the genre or it is often a way of reminding readers of a forgotten gem. This week, for the letter ‘O’, we’re shining the light on a contemporary act who deserves an audience. Lindi Ortega has been releasing music for almost twenty years and has become known for a mixture of foot-stomping country and traditional balladry, all of which showcases her powerful vocals and great range. She deserves her place here because of the sophistication of her song writing and the manner in which she continues to explore and grow and develop artistically so far into her musical career.
During her teenage years in Canada, Ortega’s guitar-playing and poetic lyrical compositions started to gain attention in Toronto, leading to early independent releases. But it was signing to Last Gang Records and the release of ‘Little Red Boots’ in 2011 that transformed Ortega’s musical journey. The album, which references the boots that Ortega is frequently photographed in for album covers, was nominated for a Juno Award and a Polaris Music Prize. It’s a sassy, attention-grabbing album, full of changes of pace, ear-friendly hooks and smart lyrics. There are gorgeous ballads, including the classic country of ‘Dying of Another Broken heart’, but the songs that stay in the memory are the lively, upbeat numbers, such as ‘Jimmy Dean’, ‘Little Red Boots’ and ‘Blue Bird’.
A succession of album releases from Last Gang followed, all of which reinforced her reputation as a mature song writing talent with a distinctively clear, quivering voice, excellent for dramatic tales of life and love. She has toured with the likes of Brandon Flowers, Jason Isbell, Noah & the Whale and Kevin Costner & The Modern West.
Over the years, Ortega has been nominated for a variety of awards, including Juno Awards, Canada’s industry award ceremony. In 2014 and 2015, she won the Canadian Country Music Association award for ‘Roots Artist or Group of the Year’ for two years in a row. However, despite her critical success and love for song writing, Ortega very nearly gave up on the music business after the release of ‘Faded Gloryville’ in 2015. After years of composing and touring, the finances just didn’t stack up. Like many musicians in the digital age, Ortega was faced with the hard realities of continual financial stresses. 2018’s ‘Liberty’ was like a last throw of the dice. Perhaps it was this that led Ortega to take such creative risks, combining her love of Quentin Tarantino movies and Ennio Morricone to produce an album that could be an epic soundtrack. It stirs up memories of spaghetti westerns, with horns, pedal steel and layers of instrumentation thrown in. Darkness, revenge and death abound on the album, which is richly evocative and atmospheric throughout; the concept sees the characters that populate the songs find redemption and journey from bleak narratives on the first half of the record towards light and hope by the end. The central character, previously lost in the darkness, rises up heroically to face her struggles. It is a bold, emotional, career-defining record. More please.
On her 2011 track, ‘I’m Not Elvis Presley’, Ortega sang: “I know I’m not legendary // I’m nothing extraordinary // Maybe you’re just ordinary too.” Ortega is anything but ordinary on the evidence of her output, which is only becoming more conceptually bold and musically challenging with time. Where she goes from here, whether it is the exploration of a new concept or a deeper journey into the cinematic story-telling of ‘Liberty’, will be fascinating to watch.
The career: Four Eps, an iTunes Session and eight full-length albums, including 2019’s ‘Liberty: Piano Songbook’, which is an entirely instrumental re-imagining of 2018’s critically-acclaimed ‘Liberty’. The run of albums on Last Gang Records, starting with ‘Little Red Boots’ in 2011, and then 2018’s ‘Liberty’ on Shadowbox Music are the most notable releases.
Key release: 2018’s ‘Liberty’ is a bravely creative album, drawing on unexpected influences, such as Ennio Morricone. The end result is a sweeping, cinematic album that immerses listeners in a darkly atmospheric world of love and loss; rejection and revenge; mortality and grief. However, the themes turn around dramatically with the powerful ballad ‘Darkness Be Gone’ halfway through and the album becomes ultimately hopeful. The quality is consistently high but highlights include the dramatic ‘You Ain’t Foolin’ Me’, the anthemic ‘The Comeback Kid’ and country ballads ‘Lovers in Love’ and ‘Til My Dyin’ Day’.
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