The wanderlust, the whisky, the love-done-me-wrong– Mexican-Canadian musician Lindi Ortega sings it all out on The Drifter EP, and even if you're not a fan of indie country folksiness, her voice calls to you. The singer's voice lulls and disarms with a sweetness that could be borderline saccharine. Nonetheless, she is saved by her expansive ability to belt out a tune. If you heard her singing in a bar, you'd probably be forced to put down your beer.
Ortega's EP has only four songs, so before you know it, the album is over. But the brevity could be a metaphor for the love affairs in some of her lyrics: Here today, sing about it tomorrow.
"Dying of Another Broken Heart" is a deadpan perspective on breakups: "I should hold a funeral for every love I’ve lost." Ortega's guitar and keyboards play out the rhythm of a pop-folk lullaby in contrast to the cynical humor. Except for an interlude of bells where the lullaby takes over, this mix of sweetness and cynicism works well.
"All My Friends" transposes Ortega's wit onto an allegory for alcohol and drug addiction. She sings about "Jack" and "Mary Jane", the "friends" who will kill her dead. Despite this heavy-handedness, Ortega plays the expert staccato chords of a protest song, complete with Jewel-like vocals.
"Black Fly" and "Drifter" provide a different kind of protest: the refusal to end relationships without "one last taste." "Black Fly" is the most orchestrated composition on the album, with drums added to guitar and vocals. A song with pop-country verve and Hollywood bravado, it could be a lost track from Thelma & Louise. But "Drifter" lowers the guitar and keyboard to bossa nova volume, creating a music box melody. Pristine and unadorned, Ortega's voice stays in a muted key. This is the album's most experimental work, and it shows her indie side.
Still, both songs are ballads for co-dependency: "Sometimes lies are sweet like honey/ When you tell me/ that you love me so/ I drink it up you know." "Drifter" is an extended voice-mail message for an elusive lover: "I wonder what you’re running from/ Yes, I wonder if I could be the one/ to make you stay." (Step One for co-dependents: Do not leave songs as voice-mail messages.) But Ortega can sing with a boldness that needs no serenity prayers. Why not evince the same boldness with her lyrics?
Mainstream and indie, sweet and cynical, co-dependent and standing on her own, Lindi Ortega experiments with many musical personas, and, despite a few missteps, The Drifter offers the work of an eclectic artist worth exploring.