Fernando Ortega's Self-Titled Effort a Self-Revelation

Title:  "Fernando Ortega"
Artist:  Fernando Ortega
Label:  Curb

Fernando Ortega’s self-titled Curb debut is a self-revelation, an intentional contrast to previous records, yet the product is anything but convoluted. Ortega takes more risks this time, engaging subjects of failure, weakness and restless nights with an honest scrutiny of his troubled spirit. And, as always, he crafts beautiful metaphors but also speaks forthrightly about the small things that matter to him.

The disc’s first two songs are almost child-like in their whimsy. On “Dragonfly” and “When the Coyote Comes,” Ortega sings about a passing dragonfly and a prowling coyote with lighthearted but impressive chops. Snapshots of his life are found amid the rollicking piano notes of “Mildred Madalyn Johnson,” a song about Ortega’s former landlady, and “California Town,” which talks about strolling down to the beach with his wife surrounded by palm trees, candles and wine. Also notable is the almost impossibly heart-wrenching “All That Time,” where he sings, “This is the moment that lovers part/He tries to take her but he cannot/The long years ending with a sign/And all the anguish, all that time.”

Ortega moves on to a slow, otherworldly string arrangement of “Rock of Ages,” a fiddle and dobro combination that will nearly bring listeners to their knees. The other two hymns on the album, “Immortal, Invisible” and “More Love to Thee” usher in a stillness, a reverence, offering a sanctuary rarely accessible from a record.

Ortega’s voice is unobtrusively silken and pours well over gentle drums and sweetly plucked acoustic strings. But he knows how to rev it up on songs like “Noonday Devil,” which turns on a slight country influence and anguishes over the desert of the human soul. “Oh Lord, make me angry/Oh Lord, make me cry/Oh Lord, please don’t leave me here/To fall into the devil’s lies.”

With the first listen, it’s easy to mistake this record for typical light adult contemporary fare, but do not miss the finely wrought portrait beneath. It is anchored by Ortega’s gift for story and shines a redemptive light on the playfulness, the yearning, the absurdity and the smallness of life. 

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