“Thanks for sticking around. I know I’m just a girl and a guitar. Not the most interesting thing in the world.” The words are coy coming from Lindi Ortega. We’ve just heard a driving, hard-nosed, enthralling rendition of a song about burying a body in a backyard. After that, it’s surprising to hear Ortega be so self-deprecating, even in the name of flirting with the audience. Or maybe not. I’m beginning to realize that hot and cold, push and pull are part of her game.
If I ignore Ortega’s cherry-red lipstick and the matching cowboy boots I hear she’s known for, the first thing I am struck by is the unabashed sweetness of her voice. She has a quick, silvery vibrato, too, almost like a tremor. It’s as if an expression of vulnerability has been polished into a stylistic choice. It’s a choice that works well for her, something both distinctive and attractive that sets her apart. The second thing I notice? Ortega’s remarkable agility. The ornaments in so many of her pieces, particularly “Angel,” might stump other singers in this genre, but she tosses them off as effortlessly as a kid tumbleweeding down a hill.
I quickly become convinced that Ortega has mastered the art of contrasts. She uses that sweet, innocent, quicksilver voice of hers to scream, caterwaul and croon. She’s not afraid of relentless rhythms, loudness or grittiness, despite a certain feminine fragility she encourages in her dress and appearance. But the best thing about her is her risk-taking. And it’s not risk-taking in the way you might think. At one point, as she builds to the end of a piece, Ortega ventures into a lone high note. Her stylized vibrato is replaced with something more uneven and organic, a little bit messy even. It lasts just a second before she is back in control, but that single note feels so fresh and honest. Not that the rest isn’t great. It is. It’s polished and sassy, defiant and flirtatious. But if I were offered all that coupled with this new abandon and openness, I’d take it in a heartbeat!
When the concert is over, I reluctantly leave the colourful world that Ortega has created. I feel inspired, but I’m a little worried for Ortega of the cherry-red boots and matching lipstick, the pin-up girl allure, the long dark locks. She is attractive and she knows it. She knows how to use it, and it’s expected of her.
I hear Mary Chapin Carpenter later that night. She’s wearing jeans and a nondescript black shirt. There is a sense of ease about her. At a much later stage in her career than Ortega, she seems to have had the space to create without worrying about sex appeal. Hearing a voice so free and honest makes me realize that I’m worried that Lindi Ortega and other younger singers won’t have that space when their time comes. It’s a bleak thought. There’s no doubt, though, that we’re dealing with a much more arid cultural climate than Carpenter faced.
As I hurry back to the main stage to catch the next show, I remind myself that Ortega is musical, tough and shrewd. No passive princess here. If she wants space, I’m going to bet that she’ll fight for it. There’s a chance those cherry-red cowboy boots ain’t just for looks.
To learn more about these EFMF artists visit YegLive.ca