Somewhere between the states of Johnny Cash and Dolly Parton lies Lindi land.
It’s her third record since 2011, and like the previous two, Ortega delivers another retro-country gem complete with her refreshing blend of aching, atmospheric ballads and rootsy rockers.
‘Tin Star’ sounds like an old vinyl record from the 1960s that was placed in a time capsule and opened 50 years later to remind folks of a time when country music seemed more elemental and inspired.
The album is a portrait of the artist as a young woman in the music world, a woman not afraid to bare her soul while ensuring it remains intact. ‘To thine own self be true’ seems to be Ortega’s mantra.
The 11 songs on ‘Tin Star’ hit all the right notes.
Highlights include the opener ‘Hard As This,’ a song about a one-sided relationship that sounds like the sequel to ‘Ring of Fire.’ That may be sacrilege in country circles, but when Ortega sings, ‘All my love is wasted on nothing but a heartache in my chest,’ her realization is genuinely heartbreaking.
‘Gypsy Child’ is a lively toe-tapper where Ortega celebrates her love of the gypsy life and the open road. She even paraphrases Shakespeare: ‘All the world’s a stage I’ve got to play. I’ll be singing till my dying day.’ When she howls her enthusiasm after delivering that line, don’t be surprised to find yourself dancing to the closet ready to pack a bag and chase a dream.
Title track ‘Tin Star’ is an ode to artists like Ortega who work for almost nothing sometimes in their efforts to succeed in a tough business. ‘Tin Star’ captures their hopes, passions and struggles as they try not to get ‘lost in the shining stars of Nashville, Tennessee.’
‘Voodoo Mama’ is an energetic, bluesy number about the allure of New Orleans.
‘Lived and Died Alone’ is a dark lullaby about someone who gives up on finding love among the living and resorts to searching for ‘sweethearts underneath the dirt.’ It sounds morbid, but Ortega transforms the song into one tender ballad when she sings: ‘I will fill their hollow hearts with all of my broken parts.’ It's surely the sweetest song about exhumation ever recorded.
‘I Want You’ is a sexy rocker about a woman who boldly suggests her willingness to act like the devil if it helps make her man want her more.
‘This is Not Surreal’ is a melancholy ballad that mesmerizes with haunting musical textures and poetic lyrics like ‘swimming in the sorrow that you tried to drown.’
‘Something for You’ is filled with the yearning of a woman ready to confess her love but afraid of the reaction. Will he feel the same way? When Ortega repeats ‘I don’t need you to love me’ over and over again, it resonates because you know she’s just trying to convince herself as she builds up the courage to share her feelings.
‘All These Cats’ is an in-your-face declaration by Ortega that nobody – critics, haters, whoever – is going to discourage her from pursuing her dream of making music.
‘Waitin’ on My Luck to Change’ is a catchy mid-tempo track where Ortega rides out the storms of life with a mildly optimistic belief that the future will be brighter.
‘Songs About’ is the gorgeous finale fueled by gospel-tinged piano where Ortega tells you exactly who she is: Someone who sings songs straight from her soul because that’s all she knows.
Ortega’s voice is an emotive instrument reminiscent of a young Dolly Parton singing ‘Jolene.’ Dolly not only conveyed the urgent desperation and helplessness of the narrator in ‘Jolene,’ she magnified the emotions with that honey-coated trill in her voice. Ortega displays the same ability.
Donning little red boots and black dresses, Ortega skips to her own beat and bypasses the formulaic conventions of mainstream country music because that’s just not her style. Her sound is as different from today’s radio-friendly confections as Dwight Yoakam’s was when he burst onto the scene in the 1980s with his neo-traditional brand of country and rock and roll.
‘Tin Star’ is the best country album of 2013 so far. In a year of outstanding releases by The Mavericks, Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell, and Kelly Willis and Bruce Robison, that’s high praise. But Ortega earns it by singing her heart out on every song.