Til The Goin’ Gets Gone (Shadowbox Music/Cooking Vinyl)
On previous Lindi Ortega releases, we’ve had boisterous and lively Ortega, full-sounding and chugging Ortega, and widescreen Ortega alongside modestly deployed Ortega. Very satisfying fare they’ve been too.
With a voice that suggests fragility and yet sustains through it all, the Canadian has made old style American country as vibrant and as practical as her signature red boots.
References to a young Dolly are easy but have not been not out of place, and nor have connections drawn to something more in the folk mould.
This four-track EP may be seen closer to folk, especially its on-trend modern version, alt. folk, than straight country. There’s sparseness leaning towards the eerie being standard, tempos at anything but toe-tapping speed, and Ortega’s voice well out front.
But to see it that way says a lot about how we have forgotten the capacity of country music – as in the hands of Townes Van Zandt for one - to be spare, stark and emotionally fraught.
And in its quiet way, Til The Goin’ Gets Gone is all of those things. As much can be divined from the opening, title track, which has taken its direction and some of its melody from Badfinger’s (or Harry Nillson’s, if you like) Without You – a song not knowingly undersold on the emotionally fraught front.
Acoustic guitar picks in the background, when electric guitar arrives it does some shooting into a Texas sky stuff up front and Ortega brings a sense of despair kept in check. Kept in check while ever the car she’s driving can keep her moving – moving from the present more than the past.
Generally speaking, if you want the full turn to resignation and bleakness you can do a lot worse than choose a Townes song and if you go to that well then nothing makes your point better than the codeine-is-my-lover-the-world-is-my-enemy Waiting Round To Die.
Ortega’s interpretation doesn’t hide the song’s code of futility, and there are moments here when this feels more like a Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds run at the dark than anything else. This is not a bad thing by the way.
But Ortega doesn’t overdo it. She has the balance between quiet horror and hooded eye concession just right, letting the tale do the bulk of the work so that her voice brings the breeze rather than a lesson.
And in the end that is what sets this EP perfectly: her three songs and the cover hang back enough to let the emotion sink in rather than hit you first. Nothing is hidden but nothing is stuffed down our throats either; her voice subtle but ever so effective.
This applies in those two songs but equally in the explanation of her semi-disappearance from the scene for while in Final Bow (essentially she was worn down and suspecting she had nothing left to write, or to give) and the wistful, country to its bootstraps (yep, sad pedal steel appears) What A Girl’s Gotta Do.
If Ortega did lose faith for some time in her abilities or direction, Til The Goin’ Gets Gone is a rebirth with extreme promise. There’s something about despair that can be quite invigorating.