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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Ashes: Lindi Ortega’s Great Song Heard In The Great Outdoors

This is a story about life’s little surprises, about how one thing leads to another. In this gentle instance an unexpected impulse to relocate my duff from indoors to outside resulted in my hearing a song that I can’t get out of my head.

There’s something naturally relaxing about sitting outdoors when the weather is pleasant. Some people sit in parks, some on beaches, some a few feet from doors to their homes. One of my pals lives in Philadelphia in an old comfortable house, a sprawling place with a front porch. On evenings when the Philadelphia Phillies are taking the field, my friend positions himself in a porch chair, balances a small radio on a table beside him and turns on the Phillies station. He remains there till the game is over. This routine helps him stay calm.

A scene at dusk: Cheez-Its, iced tea and portable radio on the deck table behind my house. Photograph by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin
A scene at dusk: Cheez-Its, iced tea and portable radio on the deck table behind my house.
Photograph by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin

I should emulate my friend’s fresh air example more often. I used to sit outside frequently, mostly on the deck behind my house, but haven’t much in the last few years. Most of my sitting and downtime in that stretch has taken place on the sofa in my living room. On a recent Monday night, however, a powerful urge to visit the great outdoors came out of nowhere, and so I stepped onto the deck as dusk was settling in, and sat at the deck table. The temperature was ideal, the evening peaceful. At least ten houses are within 100 feet of the deck, but they became less and less visible through the trees as blackness approached. These were conditions that agreed with my inner yearnings. That is, I felt isolated, away from it all. And three things made the scenario even better: Food, beverage and music. Munching on Cheez-Its,  sipping iced tea and, most important to this story, listening to my portable radio, I was as relaxed as I’m capable of becoming. The radio was tuned to WXPN.

In the Philadelphia region WXPN is the go-to station for rock, folk, blues and nearly any other non-Ariana Grande musical genre you can name. XPN plays everything from The Beatles to Mavis Staples to Caetano Veloso to Laura Marling. And the station makes it a mission to keep up with the continual avalanche of recorded music from established and never-heard-of-them-before musicians. Airing on XPN as I sat beneath the stars and amidst pulsating fireflies was a program showcasing nothing but new songs. And the tune that issued from my radio at about 9:00 PM swept me from my state of relaxation to a much higher plane.

There are certain songs over the years that infatuated me from the moment I first heard them. In 1968 it was Jumpin’ Jack Flash, by the Stones. To this day it stirs me up every time I hear it. California Stars, by Billy Bragg and Wilco (and lyrics by Woody Guthrie), brought me to my knees in 1998. I’ve added another number to the list of instant infatuations, all praise to WXPN’s new music show. The song is Ashes. Its singer and writer is Lindi Ortega. Ashes overwhelmed me on my deck. I think that the calm within and without me had unlocked fully the doorways to my emotions and ushered Ashes in. From its opening notes, Ashes in a good way made me shiver and melt. It went straight to my truest spaces.

I had come across Lindi Ortega’s name in print in the past but wasn’t familiar with her music. As I’ve learned, she’s a Canadian now living in Nashville and plays and composes smart country-hued material à la Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin. With Ashes she and her production team have created a wonder, a stirring song about the need for love, the pain of loss. The heartbeat bass lines, the steady tension-inducing drumming, Lindi’s pleading and impassioned vocals that grow as the song develops, the soul-gripping guitar solo at the song’s three minute mark . . . Ashes to me is perfection. “Darling, this is madness, why don’t you come back to me?/Don’t leave me in the ashes of your memory.” Indeed. Indeed. When Lindi next appears in or around Philadelphia I’ll be at the show. For now, I’ll listen to Ashes on YouTube, where Lindi has gifted it to the world in advance of its release next month on her album Faded Gloryville. I recommend that you do the same. Here is Ashes:

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