Thursday, August 6, 2015


Ortega is the bomb, or whatever it is one is supposed to say these days. She makes remarkably cool country crossed with Southern soul, just the way Elvis and Gram Parsons knew it could be done, Tony Joe White crossed with Ode To Billy Joe. Over four terrific albums, she's never once faltered, and her exceptional voice is always a thrill.

Hearing this new album continues the love affair. It's a good thing she keeps it to ten cuts, a touch under forty minutes. Every track is a gem, and it's over way too fast, leaving you wanting more, always the sign of something special.

This time out, Ortega took her compositions to three different settings, and different producers, each with a slightly different touch, but all three keeping the core intact, letting her soaring, edgy-sweet vocals take the spotlight. Fellow Ontario vet Colin Linden starts off the album at his Nashville studio, with the first three cuts. This is the more thoughtful material, where we enter Faded Gloryville, as she explains, the place you have to go through to get to Paradise.

Then comes a trio of tracks from the famed Muscle Shoals area, produced by the team of Ben Tanner and John Paul White. These are, natch, the more soulful cuts, a bit more of a groove. This ain't the first time the Bee Gees' hit To Love Somebody has been turned country, but Ortega's spin sees it get a more funky feel.

Back in Nashville for three more, this time the producer is Dave Cobb, he of Jason Isbell and Shooter Jennings fame. Now she cranks it a bit, puts more life in the party, including the rip-snorter, Run Amuck. To calm things down and go out on a grace note, she slides back over to Linden's place for album closer Half Moon, a tremendous old-time ballad, about being the half-moon hanging in the sky, and she's "wonderin' 'bout the side of you that hides."

Ever the Queen Of The Road (please, somebody get the Roger Miller reference), Ortega will be all over the U.S. and Canada the rest of the year, but I'm looking forward to her show in Halifax Sept. 1, at the Carleton, part of the ever-incredible Halifax Urban Folk Festival. Be there!

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