LINDI ORTEGA: Nashville’s most exciting Canadian import

There’s a buzz in the air as the wintery winds blow through Manchester’s Northern Quarter, because Toronto’s LINDI ORTEGA is in town and ready to take on the Soup Kitchen crowds on a Monday night. Taking refuge from the cold in the café upstairs, I meet Lindi who is utterly charming and surprisingly laid back for someone preparing to take to the stage in a couple of hours. I am of course promptly berated by Ms. Ortega and accompanying guitarist Tom Juhas who, on hearing my whinges about the outside temperature, say “This is nothing!” compared to the chilly climes of Ontario. We catch up on Lindi’s tour, her exciting move to Nashville, Tennessee (eyes lighting up when talking about the country music Mecca, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and other idols), and her thrilling recent appearance in hit US TV show “Nashville” in which her new track “The Day You Die” is immortalized. Lindi is nothing short of grateful and gracious, and when we get to talking about the industry and the importance of retaining independence in your music, she displays a very good head on her shoulders indeed.

Downstairs at the basement venue, preceded by ZERVAS & PEPPER who quietly but steadily warm up the stage, Lindi waits in the wings as the crowds spill in slowly but surely from the upstairs bar-café. Dressed beautifully, with her trademark black veil and red cowboy boots, Lindi impresses the crowds from the word go with her mix of delicate and fierce vocals, husky tones creeping in on the more feisty tracks. She talks about her big love for New Orleans, how she finds it magical, leading into her cover of “The House of the Rising Sun” which ends with a rousing crescendo. We have now been transported very nicely across the pond and into the heart and soul of musical history.

For “Heaven Has No Vacancy” (which has a wicked guitar introduction, by the way) from her new album Cigarettes & Truckstops, we are invited into Lindi’s memories, as she recalls her time at Catholic school and talks with some sadness of how she could never bring herself to ally herself with the refusal to allow burial of suicide victims: “I wrote this for them – those are the souls who should be allowed in…” Oh, I crawled through the clouds on a dark and stormy day / Found myself passed out on the steps of the pearly gates / Won’t you let me in, won’t you open up the door / Surely there must be some room inside for just one more. Tour manager Dave leaps onstage to work the shaker, and the track is received warmly.

Another great guitar introduction takes us into the quirky “Angels” from her Juno award and Polaris prize nominated 2011 “Little Red Boots” album. Members of the audience are mouthing the words and there’s a lot of love in the room. We move on to some “toe-tapping” tunes then fall upon new album title track “Cigarettes & Truckstops” providing the obligatory mushy love song of the night. Tour manager Dave is again summoned to take on tambourine duties, and we’re treated to the pounding “The Day You Die” with its blithely acerbic lyrics (You said you’d love me till the cows come home – Well I’m hoping that they all go blind) to match her fabulously tongue-in-cheek music video. “High” is one of the hits of the night and by far my favourite Ortega song off the new album – a timelessly haunting song, proving Lindi’s diversity in musicianship and vocal range – simply sublime. While “Use Me” brings a smile to the crowds’ faces as practically a comic version of the previous song.

Lindi closes the show with powerful tributes to Johnny Cash and Janis Joplin, and we have been safely plonked back to Mancunian earth after our short sail away into Nashville territory. Thanks for the ride, Lindi – see you on your next whirlwind visit.