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.
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.
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.
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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