Lindi Ortega loves telling stories. That love comes out in the form of haunting, warm and honest music. Ortega’s voice is beautifully evocative, charming and rich… filled with a sweet sense of longing and regret, floating over and caressing each word as she lays her heart bare. She thanks the tutorials and tips she has taken over the years. It conjures stories of love and heartache, and shows a wisdom and depth beyond her 33 years. The tracks are genuine, inviting and sincere country odes to lost loves, betrayal, hopeful tomorrows, and the promise of redemption and healing. Ortega sings straight from her heart, and her lyrics and delivery are as honest and upfront as can be… her songs are silky-smooth and welcoming. Her lyrics carry an equally impactful emotional resonance, with lines like: “I’d rather have you still beside me, than have you running through my mind. Look out, California: I’m coming for my lover’s heart tonight. – from Cigarettes & Truckstops’ lovely title track.
It would be easy enough to compare Ortega’s voice to one of her self-admitted heroes and country music icons, Dolly Parton, but that seems like a convenient pigeonhole for someone who calls punk music as much of an influence as country. Ortega’s decade as an independent artist shows her determination and drive, and illustrates her DIY ethic. Her extensive touring helped her further hone and sharpen her craft, having shared the stage on two separate tours with punk icons Social Distortion.
It was an amazing experience, Ortega says. I ended my set with Folsom Prison Blues (The Johnny Cash classic) and they ended theirs with Ring of Fire. I think there was a mutual appreciation of outlaw country and it was almost liberating in a sense. That type of audience can be kind of intimidating. If you don’t sing with conviction, and give it your all, and be who you are, they can eat you alive. But for some reason it worked out really well. It was one of the best experiences of my life… And I don’t know too many women singer-songwriters who can say they’ve opened for a punk band.
Not that Ortega has any issue with showing conviction or being who she is: My love for outlaw country stems from my mom’s love of it, she says.
Ortega speaks fondly of her time spent going through her mother’s record collection, and credits it as being the source of her love for the genre.
Waylon, Willie, Loretta, Patsy… I love what those artists were singing about. I love the originality of it. Back in the 60s and 70s, there were people in country music who had unique and original things going on. They were all country artists, but you could always tell the difference between a Dolly, a Patsy or a Kristofferson. They were all distinct in their approach and style. I also love the storytelling, all of those things that later became cliché in country music, at the time were a new thing. I grew up the only child of immigrant parents who worked all the time. I spent a lot of time alone as a kid, and I could really relate to those themes of loneliness and alienation; they really resonated with me at a young age, but I continued being attracted to country because of the imagery, lyrics and music.
I myself was not exposed to much country music as a kid, growing up as I did in an Italian-Canadian household. I can pretty much guarantee that I never heard Frank Sinatra or Dean Martin do any big-band versions of Your Cheatin’ Heart, or He Stopped Loving Her Today (although that would have been pretty cool.) Most of my exposure to the genre came much later in life and consisted mostly of the stalwarts of country music, the founders and icons… people like Hank Williams, Buck Owens, Conway Twitty, Loretta Lynn and Willie Nelson. What I liked about those artists, and what has always attracted me in music generally, is an artist’s willingness to be completely open. I think that some of the most important and constructive insights and lessons in life happen in those moments. And with Cigarettes & Truckstops, Ortega faithfully delivers those same universal themes of love and loss with great ease and aplomb.
Cigarettes & Truckstops is an emotional, insightful album. Its themes and stories are deeply rooted in traditional country, but its musical approach not only borrows from the past, it also incorporates new ideas. Cigarettes & Truckstops was recently added to SPIN Magazine’s Best Country Albums of 2012, and deservedly so. This is a record that will satisfy country purists, but will also garner Ortega lots of new fans.
The video for the album’s title track reflects Ortega’s genuine affection for tradition and history. The sepia-toned scenes, the whirring and clicking of an old Super 8 projector kicking off the video, the deeply moving lyrics, vocal delivery and production… this is a Hurtin’ Song in every sense. Sad, forlorn, but ultimately redemptive. Ortega’s words are tinged with equal parts loss and hope. Day You Die is one of the album’s more traditional-sounding songs, harkening back to the Grand Ole Opry. With its locomotive drum beat, hooky vocals and melody, and somewhat tongue-in-cheek lyrics, it is inviting, revelatory and, despite its somber title, a whole lot of fun to boot!
Ortega’s sense of fun and whimsy is sometimes overshadowed by her darker and more sober lyrics: A lot of people sometimes bag on me for writing about stuff that has dark undertones, she admits, but I’m not the kind of person to shy away from the fact that life is going to have these down, dark moments. Life is going to have things that happen that cause you to feel those things, but I try to write about it in a way that also offers a silver lining, a little bit of hope. Everyone struggles with their demons, but don’t let them bring you down. It’s about acknowledging that difficult things happen, but there’s always hope, and you can always make it better for yourself.
Country music is about roots and connection. And Ortega’s recent move to Nashville – the heart and soul of country music – is one that she feels was exactly the right thing to do: There unfortunately aren’t a lot of venues in Toronto where I can play the type of music I do. It felt like in order for me to really spread my wings, I needed to come to a place that had a lot more venues, and more opportunities to write and collaborate with like-minded people.
But whether Ortega is in Toronto or in Nashville, her songwriting approach remains the same: Music can come from all sorts of places, but as long as it’s coming from an honest place, that’s what gives it validity and resonance.
And that’s exactly what Ortega’s music does: it connects, it invites, and it tugs at your heartstrings in all the right ways.
Lindi Ortega will be at The Black Sheep Inn in Wakefield, Quebec, with special guest Dustin Bentall on Sunday, January 27. Showtime is 4:20 pm. Tickets are priced at $15.
For more information, visit http://tickets.theblacksheepinn.com/eventperformances.asp?evt=124
Check out Lindi Ortega’s website at http://lindiortega.ca/ or