As I relax and listen to the brand new album from Lindi Ortega in the summer of 2018, I do so with a very content smile on my face. Why, I hear you ask? Go ahead and rewind the clock to March of last year, and specifically to a “Calgary Herald” exclusive in which Lindi confessed to being burned out, struggling financially as a professional musician, and ready to call it quits. Can you imagine a Canadian music scene that no longer includes Lindi Ortega, and the iconic, often quirky, brand of alt-country that she creates? No, me neither! Making the very existence of “Liberty,” released just twelve months after that dark moment in her career, proof that artistic talent can conquer life’s challenges and obstacles.
Well versed in the alt-country genre, Lindi has raised her game and crafted an explosive ‘Spaghetti Western’ that throws heavy punches from the very start. “Through the Dust, Pt. 1” (uncredited opening instrumental) overloads the senses with plenty of pedal steel, and Champagne James Robertson’s signature guitar sounds; leading into “Afraid Of The Dark” and setting the tone for this upcoming gothic Western noir. Indeed, there is definitely a cinematic script at the core of this album; the listener rides shotgun across the plains, experiencing lessons in broken hearts, the thirst for revenge, and like all Westerns, the path to redemption. For Ortega, the listener experiences first hand “the story of a character who makes their way through the dark to ultimately find the light, and in the end we find our character is simply grateful to be alive.” One could easily speculate that the fictitious protagonist from “Liberty” shares many traits of an autobiographical Lindi Ortega.
All speculation aside, “Liberty” boasts some phenomenal music during all three phases of this album (nicely separated by those instrumental pauses). With an abundance of tears courtesy of the dominant pedal steel, “Til My Dyin’ Day” is pure vintage Ortega. A mix of old country with a touch of surf, Lindi’s vocals deliver an extensive range of emotions that fuel our protagonists heartache. “The Comeback Kid” represents Ortega’s renewed confidence, recovering from her broken heart with a fierce and bitter diatribe for her tormentors. “I bet you didn’t that think someone like me could find you / well turn around baby cause the ghost is right behind you / you took my life and wrecked it / but I’ve been resurrected,” delivered with true scorn for you and your wicked deeds. But penance can be found courtesy of the title track. After all, “Liberty” is freedom, which in turn leads to redemption. Ortega embraces Liberty, “through the desert riding free / like an unshaped melody / riding towards the sun.” Cue the closing credits to this Spaghetti Western as our silhouetted on-screen heroine finds absolution and rides into the sunset accompanied by the powerful horns of “Gracias a La Vida.”
Ortega orchestrates this Western noir with apparent ease, and while her ‘on-screen’ alter-ego succumbs to acts of loss and revenge, the music never falters and is some of her finest work to date. Looking for further proof? Take a listen to “You Ain’t Foolin’ Me,” where sharp vocals are challenged by the aggressive percussion and edgy guitar licks that complement her sorrow. Proceed to “In The Clear” for the complete opposite, with discreet instrumentation allowing Ortega to slow things down perfectly and move gradually towards her yearning for closure. Perhaps one of my favorites here, “Pablo” has a wonderful Tex-Mex/Americana vibe and a offers a taste of Lindi’s bilingual competencies. Saturated with enough pedal steel to tug at those heart strings again, this one also serves as a reminder of the harsh realization that “Liberty” is an album that might have never been, should Ortega have not taken that one last leap of musical faith back in 2017. Very strongly recommended listening.