Western Reserve Folk Arts Association presents
Lindi Ortega & Andrew Combs
175 East Main
Kent, OH, 44240
Doors 7:00 PM / Show 8:00 PM
When Lindi Ortega went in search of some quiet last year, the award-winning artist was pleasantly surprised to find a voice she hadn’t heard in some time – her own. Amid sparse, atmospheric production, it’s precisely this voice – a combination of Ortega’s fatalistic perspective expressed with her evocative soprano – that grips your attention on a brand new EP, Til The Goin’ Gets Gone.
A dogged resilience permeates this unadorned collection – three originals and a cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting ‘Round To Die.” The songs are the hard-won spoils of an internal war with words that struck after an extended stretch of touring, addressed in the EP’s title track about the detours and ditches that a traveling musician faces.
“What A Girl’s Gotta Do,” a song that is the silver lining of an otherwise dreadful date, explores the gritty pragmatism of making ends meet. Alongside the title track, this song offers a second metaphor about artistic life that strengthens the EP’s overall sense of resolve. Ortega’s somber rendition of “Waiting ‘Round to Die,” acknowledges a personal debt – her recent discovery of the legendary songwriter’s music is what finally cured her writer’s block. The closer, “Final Bow,” came when Ortega assumed she only had one song left in her. “I thought I had to quit music but I wanted to leave gracefully,” she says. “But then I decided to get up and sing some more.” As a whole, this statement captures the essence of Ortega’s new EP – it’s about dusting off, gutting it out, stepping up for another round.
Ortega recorded Til The Goin’ Gets Gone in a converted East Nashville manor, where therapy horses linger on the property. Recording with her longtime guitarist James Robertson, Ortega co-produced the set with Jay Tooke and Jason “Rowdy” Cope. The small production team and minimalist instrumentation make an intimate, immediate setting for Ortega’s stark vision of the human condition. Although classic country is an indelible part of her musical history, the EP also sets the tone for the next chapter of her career: “I'll always love Loretta, Dolly and Patsy. But I just want more space. I want more ambience.”
Ortega’s guitar-playing chops and innate country music instincts put her in an elite group of artists;
she has earned an unusually inclusive type of success with both indie cred and mainstream country recognition. From supporting Carrie Underwood on the CMA Awards to her opening slot on Chris Stapleton’s recent Canadian arena tour, Ortega is a sought-after and unique personality in Nashville’s music community and beyond.
- Canadian Country Music Association – Roots Artist of the Year (2014 + 2015)
- Grand Ole Opry debut (2015)
- Critical praise from NPR, Rolling Stone, Billboard and more.
“Ever heard of a happy song?”
That question is posed to Andrew Combs in “Rainy Day Song”, the lead track on his acclaimed 2014 album, All These Dreams, during a barstool chat with a sarcastic friend. The singer — offended but gracious — smiles and allows the moment to pass, eschewing confrontation for the sake of a gem he polishes as an afterthought for the listener: “Tab’s on me if you think I’m lying / Laughing ain’t a pleasure till you know about crying.” The moment, full of the understated charm and pulsing honesty that defines his music, is as good a metaphor as any for the songcraft of Andrew Combs.
A Dallas native now living near the same Nashville airport immortalized in the opening sequence of Robert Altman’s country music odyssey, Andrew Combs is a singer, songwriter, guitarist and heir to that 1975 film’s idea of the Nashville troubadour as a kind of musical monk. Here in the twenty-first century whorl of digital narcissism, where identity can feel like a 24/7 social media soft-shoe performance, Combs makes music that does battle with the unsubtle. Like the pioneering color photographer William Eggleston, he sees the everyday and the commonplace as the surest paths to transcendence, and he understands intuitively that what is most obvious is often studded with the sacred. As a songwriter, Combs relies on meditative restraint rather than showy insistence to paint his canvases, a technique commensurate with his idea of nature as an overflowing spiritual wellspring. NPR music critic Ann Powers noted as much in a 2014 review: “His song-pictures are gorgeous, but he recognizes their impermanence as he sings.” This deeply felt sense of ecology, of the transient beauty within nature’s chaotic churn, lies at the heart of Combs’s approach to his art.
After touring behind All These Dreams, a record that earned him international accolades and comparisons to everyone from Leonard Cohen to Mickey Newbury to Harry Nilsson, Combs has returned with a new album that puts down stakes in fresh sonic terrain. Canyons of My Mind, out in March on New West, is — as its title suggests — a landscape where the personal and the pastoral converge. Drawing inspiration from the biographies of literary figures like Charles Wright and Jim Harrison, Combs has created an album that explores the notion of “sustainability” in its many facets — artistic, economic, spiritual, environmental.
“When I set out to record All These Dreams, I had a distinct vision of what I wanted the record to sound like. It was a cocktail of the Roy Orbison, Glen Campbell, Nilsson vibes that you can hear right there on the surface,” Combs says. “Canyons of My Mind is much more personal. It’s a testament to my acceptance of who I am as a man, and who I am becoming.” The record’s sonic adventurousness bears witness to that evolution, as well as to some big changes in his personal life. Between All These Dreams and Canyons, Combs married his longtime girlfriend Kristin, with whom he honeymooned for six weeks in the Minnesota wilderness. “She walks through her life exuding such open-mindedness and kindness,” Combs says. “I can’t help but watch in awe. She lets me be whoever I want to be, and that’s new to me. And quite refreshing, and freeing.”
The quiet struggles and satisfactions of carving out an identity in a world gone wrong are palpable throughout the album. Whether questing through the labyrinth of his own spiritual yearning, (“Heart of Wonder”), recreating a rail rider’s full-body sensation of freedom beneath an azure Montana sky (“Rose Colored Blues”), imagining a near-future dystopia where the very idea of green spaces has been annihilated (“Dirty Rain”), or channeling the desire of a peeping Tom who has fallen in love with his sylvan quarry (“Hazel”), Combs refines the vulnerable vagabond persona he mastered on All These Dreams while pushing it beyond those boundaries, into a more pastoral realm aligned with artists like Nick Drake and Tim Buckley. The idea of the artist’s creative life as an ecosystem — one just as in need of cultivation and care as our own imperiled world — informs much of Canyons. For Combs, the quest to sustain his own capacity to create on a daily basis is what drives him. “I want to create for the rest of my life — writing, singing, painting,” he says. “I also want my life to include a family, a house, and kids. Seeking out other artists who’ve been able to keep the lights on without compromising their art – that keeps me inspired.”