Lindi Ortega is a big Jeff Bridges fan. She loves the Dude, Bridges' hippie-go-lucky protagonist from The Big Lebowski, but it's the twang, trials and tribulations of Bad Blake — the gone-to-seed country star in Crazy Heart, who dilutes his talent with a nightly wash of off-brand whiskey — that leave a bigger mark.
"Remember that scene where he's in the bowling alley?" she asks from her home in Nashville, where she moved in 2011 after logging nearly three decades in Ontario. "That's such a sad scene. When I saw it, I thought, 'My gosh, is that gonna be me? How long can I stay in this business before I'm playing shows in bowling alleys for people who are just passively listening?'"
Repeated viewings of Crazy Heart, along with the ups and downs of a career spent on the fringes of country music, inspired Ortega to dream up "Faded Gloryville," a mythical place that gives her fourth record its title and source material. Due out August 7th, Faded Gloryville spins stories about chasing your dreams (or your loved ones) and stumbling across something dark and desolate — whether it's a state of mind or a lonely bowling alley — along the way. Some stay in Faded Gloryville, too tired to dust themselves off and continue the journey. Others push forward.
"It's about how much faith you need to put into whatever you're doing, and how hard it is to keep that faith," Ortega says of her follow-up to 2013's Tin Star, which earned three nominations (and one win) from the Canadian Country Music Awards. "Everyone starts off in this business with huge dreams. Years later, after being signed to a major label, then getting dropped, then getting signed to an indie label, I realized that the dreams I had at the beginning were a bit naive. Metaphorically, Faded Gloryville is a state of mind where you've gone from being so excited about something to so tired, and you realize it's not quite what you thought it was gonna be. You realize just how much you have to sacrifice to make those dreams work, and you need to reassess what you're doing. Do you stop there, or do you move on?"
Ortega recorded Faded Gloryville in spurts, splitting the workload between three different producers. Dave Cobb, who'd sat behind the boards for Tin Star, recorded three songs at the Sound Emporium in Nashville, while Colin Linden, the producer of Ortega's 2012 release, Cigarettes & Truckstops, recorded four. Rounding out the sessions were three songs tracked in Muscle Shoals, including a Nina Simone-inspired update of the Bee Gees classic "To Love Somebody."
"There's something about the Shoals that entices artists to forget themselves, to reimagine, to reinvent," says former Civil Wars bandmate John Paul White, who co-produced the Alabama sessions with the Alabama Shakes' keyboardist, Ben Tanner. "Lindi did a great job of immersing herself in what we do around here, yet retaining that thing makes her incredibly unique."
Cobb agrees, adding "I'm a huge fan of her voice. She sounds like a classic country singer, and it's totally legit. It's not an act. It's not rehearsed. It's not disingenuous. It's the real deal, which makes her albums feel like those classic country women's albums from the Seventies or something."
With Faded Gloryville touching down in early August, Ortega has a summer's worth of shows ahead of her. Two and a half years ago, she supported Cigarettes & Truckstops by hitting the road with Social Distortion, playing her mix of retro country ballads and revved-up rockabilly to fans more accustomed to punk anthems. She's stretching herself similarly this around, with an upcoming promo tour that encompasses everything from a motorcycle show in California to a tattoo festival in Nashville. The goal is to target not only traditional country fans, but outsiders who might be willing to allow a left-of-center songwriter — say, a Mexican-Irish female who kicked off her career in Canada, far away from the neon signs and rhinestone-encrusted graphic tees of Nashville's Lower Broadway — to pull them into the fold. It'll be a busy year, but staying busy is one way Ortega plans on keeping the glory fade-free.
"Faded Gloryville isn't just about music," she says. "It's about anything that brings you down, whether it's dreams not coming true or relationships not working out, and its message is this: you can go to place where you're feeling really down about things, but it's what you do afterwards — do you decide to reside there forever, or do you leave and make the situation better — that matters. You have to travel through Faded Gloryville to get to Paradise."
Faded Gloryville track listing:
2. "Faded Gloryville"
3. "Tell It Like It Is"
4. "Someday Soon"
5. "To Love Somebody"
6. "When You Ain’t Home"
7. "Run-down Neighborhood"
8. "I Ain’t The Girl"
9. "Run Amuck"
10. "Half Moon"