About fifteen years ago, an entertainment attorney sent me a demo tape of one of his clients. He wrote in his letter that the young man he represented ‘was influenced by Billy Joel and the New York City lounge scene’, a great understatement. The kid on the tape swiped the singing, playing and lyrical nuance of Joel on every song. In some ways, it sounded like the guy had stolen a small piece of Joel’s soul, severely damaging it in the process.
Singer Angela Ortiz has committed a similar larceny. Ortiz appropriates a little of the vocal, lyrical, and piano playing style of cult rock goddess Tori Amos on her debut album All About You. Although on some songs, Ortiz surpasses the sultry Amos with deeply moving words and powerfully rich crooning.
Like Amos, Ortiz made her way through the East Coast piano bar circuit. She has graduated to a sound blending the direct sensuality of Amos’s edgy rock with a lackadaisical jazz induced playfulness, which brings to mind Norah Jones and Canadian chanteuse Diana Krall. On songs like “Song for a Lost Friend”, “Cheshire Cat”, and “Days of Lemonade”, her admiration for Amos overwhelms however, Ortiz applies her original jazz/fusion licks on “Everyone Changes”, and “Finish What You Started”, wrings the most out of the soulful “Steven”; and cooks up a witches brew of alt. rock, jazz, and meaty soul on “We Must Be All Right.” Ortiz has achieved balance on All About You, a difficult feat for a debut album.
There only a few foot faults here, mostly in the production work. There are moments when Ortiz’s vocals are overcome by her back up band. Ryan Scott on guitars, Dimitri Moderbacher on saxophone and clarinet, and Bill Campbell on drums try hard to remain an adjunct to Ortiz’s performance, but the lack of vocal dubs allows the ensemble to bleed through Ortiz’s work heavily. Michael Blanco’s and Marco Panascia’s bass is appropriately monitored, supporting Campbell’s drums and Ortiz’s light touch on keys. Trumpeter and flugelhorn player Andre Cannier punches through hard on the few tracks where Ortiz actually does vocal layering.
Despite these minor production problems, Ortiz has a winning album in All About You. While it contains some of the tragic elements found on Amos’ records, Ortiz is at turns uplifting, sarcastic, and refreshingly honest in her writing.
Other critics may pass off Ortiz as an Amos wannabe, but those willing to scratch beneath the surface of All About You will find a treasure of independence and originality. Not too long from now, Ortiz will shake the Amos comparison, creating her own groovy little cult. I know I’ll be among them – and one listen to All About You will lead you to that cult as well.