Tag Archives: Lindi Ortega

Review: Jake Worthington–hell of a Highway EP

Rating: 7/10

Jake Worthington, whom many will remember from The Voice and perhaps most specifically from that wonderful 2014 performance of Keith Whitley’s “Don’t Close Your Eyes,” is probably the most promising traditional country artist to have come from that show. Sure, we’ve had success in the country world from RaeLynn recently, as well as some for Cassadee Pope and others, but if we’re just talking about straight-up, traditional country, Jake Worthington is the one with the most potential. You cheer for him when he gets success on the Texas charts and hope his name recognition and experience from the show can help him, because you know he is the real deal, and you want to see that potential realized.

His sophomore EP only strengthens that notion. You only get five songs and fifteen minutes, but Jake uses every minute to further reinforce his traditional country sound and lyrics. You get three heartbreak songs in “Big Time Lonesome,” “A Lot of Room to Talk,” and “Hell of a Highway” that, while they probably shouldn’t have been placed right in a row, still all sound unique and tell a different story. “How do You Honky Tonk” is reminiscent of a 90s radio hit and manages to be fun and upbeat without veering into the territory of cliché. “Don’t Think Twice” is probably the weakest of the five, but it’s still a nice love song, and Jake delivers a strong effort here, especially considering the length. The fact is, it’s one of three EPs I’ve enjoyed this year (the others being Whitney Rose’s South Texas Suite and Lindi Ortega’s Till the Goin’ Gets Gone.)

However, I can’t help but feel that it’s time for Jake Worthington to release an album. He’s given us two EPs now when he could have delivered one full-length project; both EPs were strong, but I think more people would be paying attention to an album. This has been debated a lot recently, but the fact is that more people pay attention to albums, for better or worse, and that’s mainly because Eps often leave you wanting more. With both Whitney Rose and Lindi Ortega, the projects were somewhat of an exception, each reflecting a time in the artist’s life that might not have been captured if they waited to release full albums. Those projects both had a cohesive theme despite their short length and therefore stood out as only few EPs manage to do. With Jake Worthington’s Hell of a Highway, there’s no overarching theme that holds this together–it feels more like a preview of Jake, and while that worked nicely for his debut EP, it doesn’t work as well this time. Still, it says something about these songs and Jake Worthington’s potential that this EP still manages to stand out despite these factors. As I mentioned, it’s one of only three that have made an impact on me in 2017, and that can’t be taken lightly. It took so long after his release to write about this because it’s harder to talk about EPs in general–but that’s also a testament to the fact that this particular EP still deserves talking about. All in all, it will leave you wanting more, but it’s still a nice place to start with Jake Worthington’s music.

Listen to EP

What Happens When you Take Women Out?

I debated whether or not I should write this piece because it’s really quite personal, and I’m not sure if it will be relatable or have a point when I’m done here, but it’s still on my mind after a couple of days, so I’ll try my best to be articulate as I express my thoughts.

The inspiration for this piece came after the news that Miranda Lambert’s “Tin Man” fell from #38 on the Billboard Country Airplay chart this week to #42, despite its sales and the ridiculous spike after her ACM performance. Now, as I’ve seen a lot of people point out, Miranda has never had the greatest treatment at radio anyway. There’s also the fact that “Tin Man” is stripped down, not necessarily radio-friendly, and quite traditional, so it’s got those strikes against it–although “The House That Built Me” had all of these characteristics and still gave her a #1 hit. But the glaring fact is, a big part of this simply has to do with the fact that Miranda Lambert is female, and in 2017, despite all the think pieces and supposed inclusion of more women by the country awards shows, females are still systematically ignored on country radio and by the country industry as a whole–and if you think these awards shows really want to include more women, why are there fewer nominees for ACM Female Vocalist of the Year? Sure, more women have been signed to major labels recently, but they’re not generally given the same chances to succeed; there’s a quota for females on country radio, and Miranda Lambert and Carrie Underwood are filling it. And now it looks like Lambert will be replaced by Kelsea Ballerini, who is as non-country as Sam Hunt and the bros.

Keith Hill said back in 2015 that radio should “take women out.” The more infamous part was calling them tomatoes, but the more alarming part was taking them out. Lindi Ortega said then, “I can’t begin to describe to you how my blood boils at those words. Erase us, delete us…make it so we don’t exist.” And that’s what country radio is systematically doing–taking the female perspective so completely out that it’s shocking to imagine a woman’s point of view beyond the “girl” on the tailgate. Maren Morris recently spoke about this when she wrote that women in country can’t be sexual in their songs–they are supposed to be pretty and desirable but not write about their own desires. That inspired another piece which I haven’t yet written and have many conflicting feelings about writing–mostly because so many people I know will read it, and Maren Morris is a stronger person than I am–but it’s a more specific issue deriving from the same problem: take women, and their perspective, out. “Girls” are okay–and that’s why Kelsea Ballerini’s music can succeed on country radio; that, and that it isn’t country and seldom has substance.

So what actually happens when you take women out? I could go on about how it takes away their perspective in the mainstream, or how it leads to radio being one-sided and favoring music that marginalizes them, but I’m going to answer it from a personal place instead. I grew up in the late 90’s and early 2000’s, and one of the first country records I ever owned was a Dixie Chicks album, Wide Open Spaces. I fell in love with their music because it was country, but also because I could sing it and relate to it. They were women, and what they sang about appealed to me. I loved Martina McBride and Faith Hill, and later Miranda and Carrie. I sang an inordinate amount back then, so I will say that part of the appeal in their albums was that I could sing them; their ranges matched mine. But more than that, I related to them. I enjoyed plenty of music by male artists–and still do–but I naturally gravitated toward more women artists. Even today, on this blog, I can go back and look at the very few tens I’ve awarded–it’s a subconscious thing, but more of those records are by women. They have nothing in common in production, style, lyrics–but tens are set apart from nines for me because they can connect emotionally, and I have connected emotionally with more women in the history of running this blog, it seems.

The point of all this is that I fell out of love with country radio for the same reasons you all did; it lost its sound and its substance almost overnight. More than that, here in Oklahoma, radio killed Red Dirt around the same time. It had once lived on our radio stations along with mainstream music, but things like the rise of iHeart helped to destroy it. Even more than all of that, though, I became disenchanted with country radio because of the lack of women. I didn’t know then that there was all this independent music floating around just waiting to be discovered, and all of a sudden, I couldn’t relate to anything on the radio or sing along with any of the records. I mentioned that I sang, and I will now say that I grew up wanting to be those women. And I don’t think it’s even possible to do that now. You can’t turn on country radio and hear Miranda lambert as a young girl and say, “I want to sing like her” or get that passion for country music like I did. It’s the same thing I said in my piece about genre awhile back, that it makes me sad that your average young person can’t just turn on the radio and find and fall in love with traditional-sounding country. But even that’s starting to make its way back in, (slowly), with Stapleton, Morgan, Pardi, Midland…while the women are being pushed further and further out. Sure, there are plenty of them out there if you know where to look, but you have to love country first before you go seeking out Ashley Monroe and Angaleena Presley and Margo Price.

And I’m not saying a girl can’t fall in love with country from listening to men, or anything close to that; I’m only saying that in my case, I don’t think I’d be sitting here writing this if I hadn’t heard all those women on country radio back then, and if country radio’s systematic ignoring of females keeps even one girl from falling in love with this wonderful genre, then that’s the real problem, and the real danger of taking women out.

Review: Lindi Ortega–Til the Goin’ gets Gone EP

Rating: 8/10

Lindi Ortega left Nashville, and nearly country music, behind after realizing that despite her awards and critical acclaim, she still couldn’t pay her rent. Eventually, she ended up at the piano writing what she believed would be her final song, “Final Bow.” But as it so often does, music came out of these struggles, and “Final Bow” ended up as the first song on Ortega’s new EP. And even though it’s only 4 songs, there’s that common thread of pain and hope running through this EP that gives this project a cohesive feel generally not possible, and definitely not easy, with EPs.

The title track opens the EP, speaking of going on despite all of life’s hardships “til the goin’ gets gone.” Perhaps the line that sums up this whole EP and Ortega’s frame of mind is “and I hope someday they find me, see that I was on my way, when I lay down by the side of the road where I made my grave.” The sparse arrangements here and throughout the EP really add to it, and let the world-weariness in Lindi’s voice shine through. This is an excellent song, and it’s the one you should pick if you only choose one. Next is “What a Girls Gotta Do,” another heartbreaking song in which Lindi sings about a stripper who can’t pay her bills and had no choice but to take this job: “it might make your daddy cry, but a girl’s gotta do what a girl’s gotta do to survive.” This is another one you should absolutely hear. Ortega’s cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Waiting ‘Round to die” fits the EP perfectly; this is the first time I’ve heard a woman sing this song, and she really pulls it off well. “Final Bow” closes the EP, and because there are only four songs, this brings it down as a whole from a ten. My problems with this one are, although the lyrics are great and it speaks to Lindi personally, it’s almost so personal that it doesn’t really connect. She wrote it as her farewell to music and didn’t think it would see the light of day, and even though it fits with the tone of the album, it doesn’t have the universality that makes “Til the Goin’ gets Gone” stand out. Also, the other songs featured acoustic guitar, and this one switches to piano which I didn’t really feel worked for it and interrupted the feel of the EP.

It’s a shame that Lindi Ortega went through so much in her life to inspire this music, to make every word on this short project sound real and borne of pain and struggle. But music is meant to be real and relatable, and through her hardships, she produced something beautiful. I absolutely recommend checking out this EP, and I hope we’ll be seeing more from her in the future.

Listen to EP

Country Exclusive’s Essential Songs of 2015

I thought long and hard about this, and since Country Exclusive did not come into existence until halfway through the year, and therefore did not do as many reviews as other sites, I am not going to name a 2015 Song of the Year. There are surely songs that I did not review which would make this list if I had reviewed them; in fact, a few on this list were not covered here. As for the album list, I will have nominees and an Album of the Year, as I did cover most of the essential albums of 2015. But here is a list of songs from 2015 that I feel everyone should definitely check out! If you have overlooked any of them, please correct this now. They are listed alphabetically, and not by any sort of rank.

Essential Songs of 2015

1. “After the Storm Blows Through” by Maddie & Tae
2. “Ashes” by Lindi Ortega
3. “Be my Baby” by Whitney Rose and Raul Malo
4. “The Bird Hunters” by Turnpike Troubadours
5. “Bienville” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
6. “The Blade” by Ashley Monroe
7. “Bound to Roam” by The Black Lillies
8. “Bramble Rose” by Don Henley, featuring Mick Jagger and Miranda Lambert
9. “Burning House” by Cam
10. “Cost of Living” by Don Henley, featuring Merle Haggard
11. “David” by Cody Jinks
12. “Dixie” by Ashley Monroe
13. “El Dorado” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
14. “Fall out of Love” by Turnpike Troubadours
15. “Ghost Town” by Sam Outlaw
16. “Good ‘ol Boys’ Club” by Kacey Musgraves
17. “Half Moon” by Lindi Ortega
18. “Has Anybody Ever Told You” by Ashley Monroe
19. “Heartland Bypass” by Jason Boland & the Stragglers
20. “House on a Hill” by Kasey Chambers
21. “If the Devil Don’t Want Me” by Ashley Monroe
22. “Just Some Things” by Jamie Lin Wilson, featuring Wade Bowen
23. “Knives of New Orleans” by Eric Church
24. “Long Drive Home” by Turnpike Troubadours
25. “Need for Wanting” by Courtney Patton
26. “Oh Grace” by Kasey Chambers
27. “Pageant Material” by Kacey Musgraves
28. “Record Year” by Eric Church
29. “Roots and Wings” by Miranda Lambert
30. “Shut up and Fish” by Maddie & Tae
31. “So This is Life” by Courtney Patton
32. “Somebody to Love” by Kacey Musgraves
33. “Something More than Free” by Jason Isbell
34. “Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell
35. “Standards” by Randy Rogers & Wade Bowen
36. “Suffer in Peace” by Tyler Farr
37. “Traveller” by Chris Stapleton
38. “Too Late to Save Me” by Kasey Chambers
39. “War of Art” by Courtney Patton
40. “When I stop Dreaming” by Don Henley, featuring Dolly Parton

There are many more, but I had to stop the list at some point!

Random Thoughts of the Week: The “Random Thoughts” of Merle Haggard and Jason Aldean

I was actually going to focus this entirely on merle Haggard until today, when I heard of the news of Jason Aldean’s comments. Both Haggard and Aldean shared some very interesting random thoughts on country music this week, and they are made even more interesting in light of each other, so I decided to look at them together.

In an interview on September 9th, Merle Haggard said, of modern country music,

It needs a melody real bad. Not sure what they’ll have to remember. A song is defined as words put to music, but I don’t hear any music. All I hear is the same band, the same sound, and everybody screaming to the ceiling. You stand off at a distance and you couldn’t tell who they are. They are all screaming for one note they can barely get. I don’t find it very entertaining. I wish I did.

This comes after these comments on September 3rd, shared in another interview:

I can’t tell what they’re doing. They’re talking about screwing on a pickup tailgate and things of that nature. I don’t find no substance. I don’t find anything you can whistle and nobody even attempts to write a melody. It’s more of that kids stuff. It’s hot right now, but I’ll tell you what, it’s cooling off.

Now, aside from the obvious fact that Merle Haggard has just said what many of us are thinking, this news is significant because these words have come from a legend. Mainstream outlets are actually reporting it; Merle Haggard is name-dropped in many of today’s songs, and yet he is calling out mainstream country. A more underrated but no less significant fact is that he said it’s “cooling off”–Merle Haggard has been around awhile, and if he says a trend is dying, we all might want to listen to him. Also, Merle points out Sturgill Simpson and
Taylor Swift, of all people, as being current artists he respects. Sturgill Simpson, seen by many people on these blogs as our biggest hope, who carries a giant torch for traditional country, and Taylor Swift, who, even though she eventually went pop and made an entire career on “kid stuff” knows how to write a melody better than most of our generation. I love that he called out Swift especially, because as I said, she made a name for herself writing “kid stuff.” By mentioning her name, Merle Haggard is separating himself from those “old” country fans who just want everything to sound like Hank Williams. He’s acknowledging that you can still write “kid stuff” and be relatable; also, as a commenter on SCM pointed out, Taylor was a kid when she wrote “kid stuff,” whereas the bros are adult frat boys.

And speaking of the bros, there’s one that actually agrees with Haggard…well, sort of. Monday, (September 14th), Jason Aldean said this when asked about the lack of female representation in mainstream country music,

I feel like a lot of times female singers, to me, when they’re singing – and I’ll probably kick myself for saying this – a lot of times, it just seems like I can’t distinguish one from the other sometimes if I just listen to them, you know? A lot of times they just sound really similar to me.

Well, cluelessness of that statement aside, it does seem interesting that Aldean hears the sameness in country music that Haggard noted. However, back to the cluelessness–so he can tell all the bros apart? The females are easily more distinguishable–has anyone here heard Kelsea Ballerini sing and assumed it was Miranda Lambert? Then Aldean went on to say:

…you have some that come out like a Carrie [Underwood] or Miranda [Lambert] or somebody like that, that really has a different, distinctive sound to their voice, then it’s like, oh, okay, you can tell them apart all of a sudden. They go on to be obviously big stars, but I think it’s because you can distinguish between them … Listening to country radio, you always have these labels that are putting out new acts and it’s like, you already don’t know who this person is. So what is going to make you remember them?

Oh, okay, so he can tell two females apart on the radio: the two that are played on country radio!!! Here’s a thought; I bet, just maybe, possibly, if he heard more females, he might be able to tell more of them apart! So, in reference to females, his comments become absolutely ridiculous. However, in reference to country in general, it is interesting that both Merle Haggard and Jason Aldean, who come from very different backgrounds and perspectives, have noticed a sameness and lack of individuality in country music. Too bad Jason Aldean’s comments were only directed at women; Merle Haggard made no distinction between men and women. Still, regardless of the intent of Jason Aldean, his comments were no less honest than those of Merle Haggard, and both point to an increasing notice of, and concern for, the lack of individuality in a genre that once embraced it.

Tomato of the Week: Courtney Patton

I am going to turn my attention to the Texas scene for this week’s Female Friday–it seems Texas is just as lacking in female representation as Nashville–and I look forward to featuring Courtney Patton.

Random Country Suggestion: Josh Turner–“Lay Low”

The excellent single from the album that has yet to be released or even announced.

Non-Country Suggestion: Kelsea Ballerini–“Secondhand Smoke”

Kelsea Ballerini is a terrible country artist, and should have never been classified as such. But her debut album actually had some decent pop songs and I put this here for that reason; listen to it as a pop song. It’s a personal song for Ballerini and should not be overlooked because of the atrocious “Dibs,” “Yeah Boy,” etc.

One Last Thought

Congratulations to Lindi Ortega, who won the Canadian Country Music Association (CCMA) 2015 Roots Artist of the Year award Saturday night (September 12th.) This is Lindi’s second win in a row, and hope for females, independent/Americana/roots artists, and music of substance everywhere.