If I had known Fernando Ortega was coming to town a few weeks back, I probably would have listened to, and reviewed, this album to coincide with the concert. To be honest, this album has sat on my shelf for quite some time. I bought the album partly because a good friend whose musical tastes I admire counts Ortega among his favorites (along with such riff-raff as David Wilcox and John Gorka) and partly because another friend played bass on half the tracks. Originally I listened to only the tracks my friend played on with a "Yep, that sounds like Tim" mantra and promptly shelved the CD. Truth be told, the songs were pretty mellow and as of late (the last twenty or so years) I've have this strong urge to, well, rock. But seeing the recent press, I took the CD to work and gave it a few listens. And a few more. And now I see why my friends rave about this artist.
Musically the album is on the mellow side but there a number of upbeat tracks. While the music is gentle, it is definitely not bland. This musical craftsman knows how to turn a musical phrase and weaves many catching melodies into his tapestry. Mix in some folk, some easy listening, a touch of Nashville, a bit of contemporary jazz, and you might be getting close to his sound. Lyrically there is immense sensitivity, charm, and insight. After being on the road for so many years, Ortega and his wife purchased a house and many of these songs were birthed on the road, born out of the desire to be home with his wife and children. "Lonely Road" is a perfect example of this classic homesick-on-the-road song with the lyrics "There's a chill tonight/The late year lies down/While the crickets call outside my hotel room/ By a firelight / She is waiting for me." Of course, my favorites are the more energetic songs. "This New Day" opens the albumcelebrating a new day amidst a rollicking tempo while "Virginia Rose" is a song written for his daughter complete with a trademark roving Tim Chandler bass line that I imagine captures the unending energy of this little girl. Through it all Ortega's voice brings these stories to the listener in a clear and soothing tone. While I would definitely recommend this album to fans of James Taylor or David Wilcox, I can see how these gentle, and gently rocking, songs could appeal to just about anyone who appreciates a good song. I'm not exactly a Korn-head or a frequent attendee of raves, but I prefer my music challenging and if at all possible, heavy. And yet this album draws at me with each listen in a way I haven't felt in years. You can count on this CD not gathering any more dust in my house for quite some time.
This review first appeared in WhatzUp, June 2001.