Country music has always been something of a melting pot. Whether drawing influences from Irish, Scottish and English folk traditions or, in certain parts of North America, mixing them with strains from French-influenced culture, the blending of styles has led to the genre's diverse and continued popularity.
Over the past couple of decades the sub-genre known as alt.Country, or perhaps more correctly titled Americana, has widened the scope even further, with the likes of Calexico drawing inspiration from both sides of the Rio Grande and incorporating them into a lush textural whole. As an example of Americana's widespread roots you couldn't find a better example than Lindi Ortega.
Born and raised in Toronto, this exciting new talent has a heritage which includes an Irish mother and a Mexican father, so it's easy to see how the songs on her debut album Little Red Boots can shift so seamlessly from one style to the next.
Although the sound of her self-penned collection is predominantly country, Ortega is at ease with the many facets of that music. Possessed of a lovely, occasionally vulnerable, vibrato which recalls Laura Cantrell, Ortega has managed the tricky knack of sounding both modern and old-fashioned, sometimes within the same song. As befits someone whose musical background includes a stint as a backing singer with Brandon Flowers' touring band, there's no shortage of confidence to be heard on Little Red Boots, her musicians including personnel who've recorded with artists such as kd.Lang, Loudon Wainwright and Norah Jones.
The opening brace of tracks, Little Lies and When All the Stars Align, act as a hugely confident piece of scene-setting, quickly establishing Ortega's vocal style and the swagger of her delivery.
There's a more traditional approach on the plaintive Blue Bird before we're back to the present with Angels (no, not that one) and the gutsy romp of I'm No Elvis Presley, which follows the title line with a snarled "So who the hell are you?" It's a wonderful statement of intent and one which would, I'd wager, sound particularly devastating being belted out in the confines of a sweaty bar venue such as John Cleere's in Kilkenny or upstairs in Whelan's.
The title track sees the artist taking what appears to be a death-ballad approach on a song which reveals itself to be a mischievous piece of self-mythologising, referring to the red leather cowboy boots which she wears on the album's sleeve. An atmospheric, rolling melody accompanied by a restrained, almost drawled vocal this, if any further proof were needed, marks out Lindi Ortega as a singer and songwriter of great potential.
The second half of the album offers further evidence of a great talent in the early stages of development, with proceedings coming to a climactic close on the lovely So Sad, a lovely way to end a collection of 12 superlative songs. Definitely one to watch. >george byrne
Little Red Boots is released today on Last Gang Records