For a moment, forget about country music’s civil war. Forget about the trucks and the beers and the cliche-riddled writing that’s plaguing the genre. Forget about the fact that breakthrough female stars are about as common as pictures of Kenny Chesney without his hat. Do your best to ignore those sad realities and listen up.
Lindi Ortega has just released her fifth full-length album, Tin Star, and it’s one of the very finest albums of the year in any genre. And in this writer’s opinion, it’s the best country album of 2013.
Who’s Lindi Ortega? She’s a Canadian singer-songwriter (and former backup singer for The Killers’ Brandon Flowers) who’s currently breaking the status quo in Nashville. She’s a red-boot-stompin’ porcelain gypsy with nails dipped in poison and a voice coated in honey. She can cut you open with her fiery rasp and soothe your wounds with a delicate coo. She is fearsome, rebellious, Gothic, and sweet, and her passion courses through her aching melodies. She rips out her voodoo-needled heart and throws it onto the stage for all to see.
Tin Star captures every facet of this diamond in the rough. On opener “Hard As This,” Ortega alternates between longing desire and brazen sass in a high-noon showdown with an ex-lover. “If you need time, here’s a clock/You can sit alone at night and listen to it tick and tock/When it stops, wind it up/I’ll be somewhere giving up on you.” She’s similarly feisty on songs like “Gyspy Child” and “All These Cats,” but Ortega’s brassy delivery never feels one-note. She’s a talented enough vocalist –with a voice that sounds like Dolly Parton crossed with Emmylou Harris, plus the wailing power of Grace Potter — to infuse the furious “I Want You” with heartbreaking desperation.
When Ortega slows things down, she opts for macabre instead of maudlin, which makes her writing all the more emotional. She croons to the lonely deceased in “Lived and Died Alone” and lets her voice quiver in the chillingly cool atmosphere of “This is Not Surreal.”
The title track, though, most succinctly reveals what makes Ortega so luminous. In it, she describes herself as “an old tin star, I’m beat up and rusty/lost in the shining stars of Nashville, Tennessee.” She’s a conscious outsider in a genre increasingly enamored with frat-parties and fun times above all else, and she won’t settle for such contrived creation. “If the music wasn’t running through the blood in my veins, I might just walk away,” she cries out. “But the music keeps on running through the blood in my veins, and it just makes me stay/Oh, it makes me stay.”
If only everyone in Nashville felt so passionately.
Check out Tin Star here.