There are little indicators of cool and good judgment – perhaps the flourishes of a distinctive wardrobe or an eyebrow arched just so at just the right time. And there are more profound and permanent facts, and in our world one of those is having hooked up with producer Dave Cobb before he exploded into public consciousness via his now high profile work with Jason Isbell and Chris Stapleton. Lindi Ortega was on that train, working with the East Nashville musical guru not long after he (and she) moved to Nashville. They made Ortega’s 2013 Tin Star album, a spacious, tone-rich beauty that sealed Ortega’s place as a brilliant country classicist. She’s part of a lineup this week at Roots featuring way out wonder women that will open with a British Isles/Appalachia folk duo and end with the swagger and sweat of Alanna Royale. Ortega is a first timer on Roots and a big timer in our music, with a string of sensational recordings that have charted in both country and Americana.
I’m filing this from Belfast, N. Ireland on our annual MCR trip, where the legacy of Scots-Irish music in North America’s melting pot is much on our minds. And in Lindi Ortega we have an object lesson, a classic North American admixture. She’s a native of Toronto Canada, raised by a dad of Mexican descent and a mother of Irish background. Her musical family inspired her to start writing and singing and playing guitar in her mid teens, and she discovered and developed a misty, blue and yearning voice that is most often compared to Dolly Parton and Emmylou Harris. But she has her own presence for sure. It’s a bit of a sultry throwback with the nip and buzz of a tattoo needle. Tin Star was nominated for a Juno Award, and she was named Roots Artist of the Year at the Canadian Country Music Awards in 2014 and ’15. Her most recent album, produced in three sessions and locales by Cobb, our pal (and long-time Ortega collaborator) Colin Linden, Alabama Shakes keyboardist Ben Tanner and former Civil War John Paul White, takes a wider reach with horns and some thumpy Muscle Shoals provenance.
Her string of acclaimed and impressive albums came after a classic industry screw-up story. She was signed to a major, made an album and watched as it got buried and dropped after label-mate Lady Gaga got huge and the company shifted priorities. The perilousness of career and passion is the theme behind Faded Gloryville, and she’s remarkably clear-eyed about it, telling Vice.com last year that when you go indie and commit, “you’re in for a lot of very, very hard work and you have to have a very, very thick skin… There comes a time where reality comes down on you. It’s whether you let yourself get buried by those bricks or you build something from them. It was another time of reassessing, figuring out what I was going to do, where I was going to go from there. You could say that was the first time I visited Faded Gloryville. Then I found a way.”
I’ll have to ask whether Ortega and Alanna Royale know each other, not because they have much in common artistically but because they’ve found the confidence and brass to be distinct and strong women in the new biz. Our show’s fans will know Alanna, the Boston transplant who blew the local scene away three years ago. Last time we enjoyed her mega-voice with guitarist and bandleader Jared Colby and their ecstatically funky rhythm and horn sections it was early in our Factory run – August of 2014 – and the band was preparing to release its first full length LP Achilles. They’ve been touring that project ever since, and they remain as fiery and fun as ever.
Rounding out the night will be first timers Kacy & Clayton and Rebecca Rubion. The former is a folk duo out of Saskatchewan that takes pride in keeping it down to Earth. From their bio: “Their arrangements employ minimal ornamentation. Kacy’s completely unforced refreshing vocals are always in her own distinct and natural timbre. Clayton’s instrumental talents serve every song with modesty.” And they could be on our Ireland trip given their passion for mining the folk stream from Great Britain to Canada to Appalachia. Finally, I’m really looking forward to hearing Rebecca Rubion in person. Every track I’ve heard is striking and sunlit. Our friend John Tumminello of Musicians Corner cites her “sweet sounds…her perfect blend of indie piano pop, with tastings of soul and folk.”
So if you believe in the power of song and in feminine mystique as we do, the Factory is the place to be on Wednesday night. We’ll be there, and we have a lot farther to travel than you do.