As one of country music's most revolutionary female vocalists, Lindi Ortega makes a rather bold statement with her latest "Tin Star" record, out Oct. 8. The meager 11-track project, produced by Dave Cobb (Shooter Jennings, Secret Sisters, picks up where her sensational 2012 release "Cigarettes & Truckstops" left off — amping up the storytelling and musicianship to dizzying heights.
Channeling the likes of Guy Clark, Johnny & June Carter Cash and Merle Haggard, Lindi pushes the envelope by wrapping driving percussion and guitar licks succintly around raw realism and organic narratives. If it wasn't for the abysmal state of modern country radio, Lindi would be welcomed with open arms and a long list of chart-topping hits.
Nimbly, Lindi navigates her way through western and folk influences, as found on the album's opening track "Hard As This," a dynamic musing on heartache and loss. Setting the tone right off the bat, the singer-songerwriter's endearing vocals are warm and supple, possessing that signature country cry. She tears through the verses to get to the even more satisyfing chorus. "Love shouldn't be as hard, as hard as this," she warbles. As she progresses to the second offering, the boisterous self-reflecting "Gypsy Child" — a response to the "I dance to the beat of my own drum" manifesto — Lindi bends her voice rather well to fit the more anthemic nature of the arrangement.
The album's title track, in particular, is a heroic gem which claws at the "bright lights of Nashville, Tennessee," directly challenging those executives in suits who determine the next breakout radio hit. "You don't know me. I'm a nobody," she chirps on the opening verse, laying claim to her authentic roots and constant, admirable pride. "I wrote this song for those like me, lost in the shining stars."
"Well, we don't got fame, no name in lights," she sings. The irony (considering the heated debate which rages every day on Music Row regarding the state of radio) is not lost on her. "No Billboard hits. No sold-out nights. We got bills to pay, trying to make a way. Some of us wait on luck; well, some just pray."
This is only scratching the surface.
Another notable pinnacle track is the tenderly chilling "Lived and Died Alone," a swooping ode to devastating and paralyzing loss. Dressed up as an acoustic track, the lyrics are haunting and vivid, painting a landscape of dead bodies and references to the Dead Sea. "There were no fish swimming in my sea," she laments. "I resided myself to the fact that I would always love, never to be loved back." It's the mark of a true storyteller to be able to breathe pain and grit into simply constructed sentences. The conviction in Lindi's voice is particularly compelling here and encapsulates her power and breadth as an artist. If no other song on the record moves you, this one will most certainly rip your heart from your chest.
Emotionl highs and lows are equally balanced with uptempos and softer ballads. Lindi remarkably delivers a cohesive and fascinating set from start to finish. There isn't one track worth skipping, and that's a rare feat in modern music. "Tin Star" tells the sorrowful tale of one woman's struggle through the ever-changing male-dominated world but speaks from a universal language that every listener can pull something into their daily lives.
Other gems: "This Is Not Surreal," "Voodoo Mama"
Overall Grade: A+
"Tin Star" is currently streaming in full over at Paste Magazine.