has done her childhood idols—Wonder Woman and a host of traditional country artists—proud.
Perhaps it all began about five years ago when she traveled from her native Ontario, Canada to Nashville for a songwriting trip. One of her first stops was at a store where she hoped to find red cowboy boots—red for Wonder Woman and cowboy boots for her love of traditional country. Almost as soon as she and her manager walked into a Nashville store on her birthday, she spotted them. Little did her manager likely know when he gifted them to her that she would use them to climb right up the Music City music ladder, sort of a country version of the fictional superhero princess.
“I’ve always been a goofy girl,” Ortega says. “I know I’m a little bit of an odd girl, so I’m sure it is a bit entertaining to see the goofy girl in red boots.”
Who should tell Ortega that what she thinks of as goofy is a heartfelt optimism and faith in the power of traditional country that her fans find endearing?
On Faded Gloryville, Ortega’s latest album, her music stays rooted in the tradition of Johnny Cash, Hank Williams and other artists she listened to as a child. But the new 10-track album nudges Ortega’s sound into blues, jazz and full-on Americana with songs born from reflection on the major hits and challenges she’s faced working to achieve her dreams. Ever since releasing her first albums (including Little Red Boots, Cigarettes & Truckstops and Tin Star, the covers of which all picture her wearing the red boots) Ortega has been a constant presence on the road and on critics’ review lists.
“I am by nature an introvert and the social aspect [of the business] took some getting used to. It really helped cure me of my social anxiety, because I was forced to be social,” she says. “I always say to myself ‘I’m not a schmoozer.’ If I find the most important person in the room, I run away, but I love, love, love playing shows and having people come up to me and chat about my records and their lives. It’s so beautiful. I was bullied in school a bit..and this gives me faith in humanity and faith in people out there.”
Those people included some of the cowriters of her songs on this album. Her manager encouraged her to work with an array of artists, including three separate producers. The result is an album that beautifully showcases Ortega’s deeply nuanced voice and musical range.
“They weren’t [classic] Nashville songwriting sessions where you meet in a room about certain subjects and certain criteria,” she says. “We talked about my perspective on things and they put themselves into my weird world for a second…They got it.”
That’s evident on the song “Half Moon,” which Ortega started to formulate when she was at Dollywood in Gatlinburg with her parents.
“We came back really late at night. I like to look out the window at night. I find a lot of joy seeing a perfect crescent moon,” she says. “The phrase ‘half moon hanging in the sky’ kept running over and over in my mind.”
Working with her cowriters and producers, the phrase launched a song about relationships and those that reveal only half of themselves.
“It’s so different when you’re writing with other people,” Ortega says. “I would come up with a line and think ‘Where do we go from here?’ and someone else would come up with a different line. It’s incredible how that helps you develop the storyline.”
And those storylines are powerful reflections on life, love and nature.
“The older I get the more I realize time goes by so quickly, in the blink of an eye,” she says. “People don’t understand how hard musicians struggle…But then I met a girl in Colorado who told me she was an addict, my songs inspired her to get out of the downward spiral…Realizing I helped someone not go down junkie lane, that’s the real reward for my music.”