Unexpectedly Edgy Americana from Lindi Ortega
Lindi Ortega hails from Canada, whose government supports the arts, and as a result Canadian artists’ albums typically have superior sonics compared with American recordings made on the fly, DIY, with Protools and a couple of mics haphazardly set up in somebody’s bedroom. Which in the case of Ortega’s new album Cigarettes & Truckstops is important, because producer Colin Linden gets the excellent band behind her to really breathe, as they make their way through a diverse mix of oldschool honkytonk, highway rock, bluegrasss and some surprisingly intense blues. Ortega comes across as more of a rocker who discovered Americana than someone who’s been immersed in it since day one. However, there’s as much Dolly Parton influence as there is Jolie Holland in Ortega’s energetic, occasionally raspy, fluttering melismatic vocals.
The album’s title track has a Gentle of My Mind vibe, but with hushed contemporary alt-country production: brushed drums, tremolo guitars and Rhodes piano – and a Dolly reference that will have her fans cringing. Things get better from there. The Day You Die, a brisk bluegrass shuffle, reminds of Demolition String Band, right down to the biting electric guittar solo. Ortega reverts to a country nocturne vibe with Lead Me On, a sad, resigned ballad with the same tasty acoustic/electric textures as the opening track.
Don’t Wanna Hear It contrasts Ortega’s languid vocals with a big snarling, Link Wray-inspired garage rock arrangement. A Canadian twist on outlaw country, Demons Don’t Get Me Down reminds a bit of Lorraine Leckie, with some bright honkytonk piano handing off to a tasty slide guitar solo. Murder of Crows sounds like it’s going to go down to the delta crossroads until the electric guitars kick in and it turns into a big, murderous blues anthem, like Holly Golightly airing out her pipes, and her band, with big-room production values.
Heaven Has No Vacancy, a creepy, slow, noirish open-tuned slide blues, reminds of John Mellencamp’s self-titled blues album with guitarist Andy York about ten years ago. Once again, the layers of guitars are absolutely exquisite, and in this instance, pretty bloodcurdling (musician credits weren’t included with pre-release downloads). “I’ve got some pain to medicate and I’m all out of pills,” Ortega intones on the next track, High, a stoner take on Jimmy Webb-style countrypolitan: “I ain’t that sane, honey, I just want to fly…I’m not into razorblades so I thought I’d try something new.” And then on the casually stomping song after that, she’s telling a guy not to use crack, or shrooms, or ecstasy – if the effect is to induce a few chuckles. it works. The album ends with the swirly, creepy noir 60s pop charm of Every Mile of the Ride, hinting that Americana may not be Ortega’s ultimate destination. But while she’s doing it, she’s doing it with class: who says Canadians can’t play blues or country music? Lindi Ortega is on US tour right now with Social Distortion.