Posts Tagged ‘ Lindi Ortega ’

Best Albums of 2013

In 2013, I reviewed 57 albums, 34 of which were released this year. Here are my picks for albums of the year, with the usual caveats: I know my experience was far from complete, but I think I do a good job of picking out the things I’ll be interested in. If the list seems weird, it probably has more to do with my taste than with the number of albums I bought. I pick my top 5, with confidence that even if I heard all the popular releases this year, these ones would still likely fit in my top 10. And if I discover the ones I missed later, I’ll include them in my list of the best “old discoveries” of the year.

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Lindi Ortega – Tin Star

Tin Star cover

Lindi Ortega – Tin Star

I can’t believe I only discovered the incredible Lindi Ortega at the start of this year. I’ve learned my lesson, though, and I picked up her new album as soon as I heard about it. Tin Star is different than Cigarettes & Truckstops in a lot of ways. Where that last album incorporated a goth-tinged blues and lounge sound, this one is pure country. Also, Cigarettes usually sounded like a performance, while Tin Star seems like a view directly into Ortega’s soul. Possibly because of that, it feels like the younger work of a person who would grow up to sing Cigarettes. Don’t think that means this is worse, though. Tin Star is the rare gem that reminds us why country is considered timeless. The entire genre is justified by the way it produces things like this.

Ortega’s voice is clear and soulful, with just a touch of smokiness that she can call on when needed. Her band sounds like, and may be, a collection of Nashville’s better sessions players who are thrilled to be finally working on the kind of music that drew them into the business. The tracks include a few songs about love and loss, but the dominant theme is Ortega’s career and love of music. The title track is a sad (and hopefully mistaken) acceptance that she’ll never become successful, while “All These Cats” is the ass-kicking answer to that: Ortega adopts a rockabilly style and tells the haters that they’ll never stop her. “Gypsy Child” and “Songs About” are also about the way she could never take music out of her life, and she sounds very happy despite the sadness in the title track.

I unironically and unthinkingly love this album. Ortega’s beautiful voice and personal-but-polished style makes it seem wrong to examine this critically. Part of me does know that absent her style, most of the songs would be generic country standbys. But how could I subtract the artist’s unique style from my calculations? Besides, she does have a dark sensibility that makes her unique in Nashville. That only shows up once here, on “Lived and Died Alone”, but that song is a stunner. It’s a disarmingly beautiful tale of necrophilia as metaphor for a lonely, overly-empathetic life. It’s not off-putting or gimmicky at all, and it gives Tin Star the twist that protects it from any claim of being filled with “standard country songs”,

I also can’t bring myself to proclaim this a classic, because I hope to hear about more than just her love of music, and also songs like “Lived And Died Alone” show us how much more Ortega is capable of. Every track on Tin Star deserved to make the cut, but I still expect to see a day when she’s gone even beyond those. I may wish that I’d discovered Ortega years ago in her fully independent days, but I can at least be glad that I found her while she was still on the rise.

Grade: A-

 

Tim Timebomb’s New Songs

One big piece of musical news last week was that ex-Operation Ivy bandmates Tim Armstrong and Jesse Michaels recorded a new song. But for me the big surprise was that Armstrong, under the name “Tim Timebomb“, has been been releasing new songs every day for almost a year. Every one is free on YouTube, though you can buy them as singles. I’d seen that name before (Armstrong used it for his half-successful “RockNRoll Theater” show a while back), but somehow this new project slipped under my radar.

I’m not going to formally review this collection, since it doesn’t fit into a standard album format, and I don’t think it’s intended to be bought as a whole package anyway. (It’s pretty scary to think about how much that $0.99/day would have added up to by now!) But I’m a huge fan of Armstrong, from his harder punk to his Joe Strummer-inspired musical fusion efforts. Even if a lot of these songs are unimpressive, it’s still a lot of fun to browse through them.

These are mainly in the vein of his laid-back solo effort a few years back, with a smooth voice and strong reggae/ska influence. If you listen to too many at once, they all start to run together pretty quickly, especially since the majority of them are covers or remakes of his older songs. But he does manage to include a very impressive variety in there, and you’ll find enough new songs and surprise guests to keep the search fun.

I’m sure that the daily schedule keeps the quality down and the production repetitive. His recent duet with Lindi Ortega, for example, should be incredible, but you can tell that their bands didn’t have enough time to figure out how to merge their sounds. And some songs are disappointing – I can’t believe he couldn’t do anything special with “Jockey Full of Bourbon” or “Summer of 69“. On the other hand, this is the only way he ever would have changed up “Django” and “Not to Regret” so much, or discussed his appreciation for classic country.

This may be uneven, but it’s a great project, and I’m glad to see a man like Armstrong experimenting with new distribution methods. It seems like a great creative project, too, with Armstrong planning new Rancid and Transplants albums this year. If he can release that much polished work, then all this dashed-off music is serving a great purpose. And meanwhile, I still have hours worth of new songs that I can’t wait to explore.

Country Capsule Reviews: 2012 Catch-Up

Though I reviewed plenty of country music throughout 2012, almost none of it was actually new that year. To catch up on what I missed, I went to Saving Country Music’s nominations for the best albums of the year. I don’t always agree with Trigger at SCM, but he makes a great guide. From his seven nominees, I picked out the four that were available on physical CDs. (My preferences are falling out of step with modern times, and nowhere is that more obvious than in the indie country scene. It seems like half of the albums that Trigger loves are only available electronically.) Here are my opinions of those four.

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