Cold Fingers, Cold Beer

Holy shit, being a writer can be numbing! That’s what I discovered a week and a half ago when I strolled around my neighborhood as darkness was settling in. Earlier that day my region had received its first snowfall of the winter (I live in a town near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania). Dedicated journalist that I occasionally am, I decided to see how the powdery white stuff looked in moonlight, and to document my walk in words and with photos.

Well, it took me only a minute to realize that I wasn’t in a winter wonderland. Yeah, there were several inches of snow on the ground, but the effect was much less charming than I’d thought it would be. And what I’d been hoping especially to see — softly glowing snow clinging to tree branches — was virtually nowhere to be found. The day’s steady breezes had emptied the trees.

There were some worthy scenes, however. For instance, a number of households had not yet taken down their Christmas lights, so I stopped to admire those displays. And, 20 minutes into my walk, I watched a few kids sledding down the hilly front lawn of an apartment building. They were having fun. But you know what? I wasn’t! And that’s because my f*cking fingers were freezing!

Sure, I wore gloves during most of the walk. But I had to take them off every time I decided to snap a photo. Otherwise, there was no way I could have aimed my phone’s camera properly and pressed its button. Thus, my hands were exposed intermittently to 25°F (-4°C) air.

That shouldn’t have been enough to cause my fingers to become comatose. But somehow it damn well was. So, after being on the streets for almost half an hour, I knew I needed to get inside. Picking up my pace, I strode to my block. In front of my next-door neighbor’s home though, I chose, like a fool, to torture myself a little more by photographing the Moon, which was peeking through a tangle of tree branches. Then I walked the remaining 50 feet to my house, where I struggled to muster enough finger coordination to insert the front door key into its designated opening. Ten seconds later, finally, success! In I went.

Yup, having cold fingers sucks. Big time. On the other hand, having cold beers is a pleasure. In fact, it’s one of my greatest pleasures. I’d be in mourning if beer disappeared from the face of the Earth.

Though I’d enjoyed beer for many years (mainly mainstream lagers, such as Budweiser), my appreciation of the beverage rose to a higher level when, in my late 40s, I discovered that there were far more styles of beer on the market than I’d realized, and that the quality of many of them was steps above what I’d been used to. I have the craft beer revolution to thank for all of that. It began in the 1980s and really took off during the following decade, which is when I fell under its spell. Today, the revolution is at a high point. I mean, so many breweries worldwide produce primo beers.

Some of my pals.

Stouts, porters, pilsners, India pale ales (IPAs), and on and on . . . I pretty much like ’em all. And I look forward to downing one of them with dinner most evenings. I’m salivating right now, thinking about which brew I’ll have tonight. A quick look into the frig tells me my choice likely will be the Dogfish Head brewery’s 60 Minute IPA, an aromatic and seriously bitter quaff that’s refreshing as hell. I tell you, in these times of climate change, COVID, authoritarianism and racism, to name but a few problems bedeviling humankind, it’s wonderful to have something to look forward to.

The time has come to wrap things up. I’ll do so with songs that mesh, title-wise anyway, with this narrative. First up is Cold Fingers, by the late great Tony Joe White. Much of his music, Cold Fingers included, sounds primordial, as though it was born in our planet’s bowels. Tony Joe was something else. And then there’s Blake Shelton, a country music star and a pretty talented cat. Generally I’m not a big fan of today’s country music, overblown as much of it is. Though Blake’s Straight Outta Cold Beer leans in that direction, it tells a realistic story and packs a wallop. I like it.

Thanks for reading, girls and boys. Feel free to comment. Here are the songs:

Lindi Ortega Revisited

Last July I penned an essay about Ashes, a brilliant tune from the heartbreak canon that came out on Lindi Ortega’s 2015 album Faded Gloryville (if you’d like to read my words, click here). Lindi is a singer-songwriter in love with pensive ballads, country music in various varieties (gritty, rocking, bouncy), the blues and soul music. She has reached a modest level of success. My story, though, didn’t go into much detail about Lindi, a Canadian who relocated to Nashville five years ago, because I didn’t know all that much about her or her music (not that I’m an expert now). I concentrated on the song. In a nutshell, what I said was: “Ashes to me is perfection.”

Well, for reasons that probably always will remain unknown to me, my Ashes opus became pretty well read. Most of my stories are looked at for a few weeks at best, rarely to be discovered by any member of humanity after that. But the Ashes piece was different. Week after week, month after month, folks kept finding it. About three months ago its audience finally petered out.

Me, I didn’t forget about Lindi after I wrote the story. She and her great song became so stuck in my mind, I knew I had to see her in concert. A few months ago, voila! I noticed that Lindi and her band, who tour like mad around the USA and Canada, were on the schedule of MilkBoy Philly, a smallish and mostly rock-music club in the heart of Philadelphia. On May 22 I left my home in the burbs to take in that show.

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Was Lindi a let-down? Had my infatuation with Ashes set the bar of expectations way too high? Hell, no. I, who was familiar with not a one of the Ortega-composed songs performed at MilkBoy, other than Ashes, had a great time. Lindi and band were terrific, as I’d assumed they would be. And it was a gas hanging out in funky MilkBoy, where I squeezed close to the stage like a frigging fanboy, inches away from a gaggle of new-found, swaying and shimmying friends.

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Lindi, who is in her mid 30s, hit the stage at 9:05 PM and bid us adieu 75 minutes later. In between she sang her heart out, ripping it up on hard rockabilly and honky-tonk and bluesy numbers, pouring out her soul on the slower, more doleful part of her repertoire. She and her four-guys band knocked  each song (19 in all) out of the park. Lindi wrote or co-wrote 16 of them, and those 16 came from her four most recent studio albums. Most of the lyrics were finely wrought, sweet metaphors and similes abounding. Without a doubt, Lindi’s my kind of girl . . . a wordsmith.

Lindi Ortega sings about the subjects that have fueled country and blues and soulful songs since time almost immemorial. We’re talking loneliness, regret, broken hearts, drinking to drive the troubles away, lovers who can’t help but disappoint. Her voice and delivery might remind you of Dolly Parton and Lee Ann Womack at times, and of Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin at others. In her trademark red cowgirl boots at MilkBoy she leaned into her hand-held mic and told it like it is.

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Take one of the fast numbers, for example. The evening began with a Faded Gloryville song, Run Amuck. Wham, bam! It was a honky-tonking blues blasted into fourth gear by James Robertson’s red-hot Telecaster guitar and Noah Hungate’s precise, rip-roaring drum work. Robertson and Hungate threw out sparks for 45 seconds before Lindi sang the tune’s first lines. “Daddy, where you going?/Going out again?/You keep messing round town with your floozy little friends,” Lindi finally unloaded. And she didn’t quit unloading till the tune ended a few minutes later. Man, I was sold. And psyched.

And take one of the slow tunes. Near show’s end she broke my heart with Tin Star, from the album of the same name. Voice quivering, she sang sorrowful words: “Like an old tin star I’m beat up and rusty/Lost in the shining stars of Nashville Tennessee/Well I wrote this song for those who are like me/Lost in the shining stars, the shining stars.” She held that final stars fragilely, with a high note, and for only half a second before continuing Tin Star’s tale of a very struggling and conflicted musician. The song was gorgeous. Absolutely gorgeous.

You get the idea. If Lindi and her band pass your way, plunk down a few bucks and catch them. In the interim, you can watch part of the MilkBoy concert courtesy of YouTube. Someone whom I didn’t notice, but who no doubt was standing near me, recorded and uploaded seven of the MilkBoy songs. If you click here you’ll see and hear Run Amuck. And if you do likewise right here, Tin Star will come your way.

I can’t leave without mentioning Ashes, which, sadly, the MilkBoy YouTuber didn’t post. I went half limp when, halfway through the show, I heard the chiming guitar riffs and the dirge-like drumming that introduced the song and gave it gripping power. And what might I say about Lindi’s shiver-inducing voice and the intelligence and sadness of the lyrics? Well, to repeat, Ashes to me is perfection. By clicking here, you will hear the album version of one of my all-time favorite songs.

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