Melinda Ortner: “Strangers” from I Wanna Be, and an encounter with a tarantula
Melinda Ortner is deserting her LA home this summer for a prolonged stay in the UK, and she’s sent her new album – I Wanna Be OK – ahead. It’s an interesting calling card. Edgy beats underline strong melodies, haunting hooks and searching lyrics.
The title track, for example, combines an intimate stream of consciousness with an insistent, almost threatening bass, gathering pace as Ortner ponders the extremes she’ll encounter as she forges a career in the music industry.
The field is pretty crowded with good, inventive female singer/songwriters at the moment. Songs like “Jezebella” are typical of the vibrant, quirky fare they are delivering in a hugely competitive market. More than once I was reminded of Leddra Chapman’s last album, Telling Tales.
But Ortner also has a flair for taking soaring themes that reflect her Californian musical heritage and scuffing them up so they have a darker, more cynical texture. This is how a 21st-century, Indie Cass Elliot might have sounded.
“Caught in the Middle”, “The Beauty in Me” and “Sweet Little Lies” all contain moments of real beauty. Ortner is great at writing seductive intros that lull you into a false sense of security. Then she turns the story on its head with spiky arrangements and lyrics that are confessional and interrogative by turn. “Say Those Things”, with its head-spinning rhythm changes, is a case in point, seeking reassurance in a world of chaos. But she can do calm, too. “Maybe” is a thoughtful, contemplative ballad that’s up there with the best of its kind.
Ortner has already enjoyed some commercial success, contributing tracks to film soundtracks and being named among the top 15 Songwriters of the Year for ASCAP’s Johnny Mercer Project.There’s a bracing, refreshing honesty about her which makes I Wanna Be OK an auspicious debut album, and suggests that an interesting career lies ahead.