The Canadian Plains inhabit a level of lonely yet beautiful vastness that echoes rhythmically around the cars speeding down the Trans-Canada Highway. I should know; I’ve driven that forlorn stretch of road more than once. I’ve also driven the roads that transverse the American Plains; and the two regions, while having similarities, gift the traveler with different experiences.
I’m not naïve enough to attempt to argue which is better – the Canadian Plains or the American Plains. I do, however, want to stress that, while being planted deeply with many of the same universal experiences translated by the American Plains, the Canadian Plains have a unique richness that lends itself to being a positive addition to the regional voices that have collated into “Americana.” And I’ve only discussed, albeit briefly, the Plains of Canada. The fishing villages of Newfoundland, the purple majesty found in Banff, and the gritty manufacturing centers of Southwest Ontario all resonate with similarly rooted cultural voices. And I’m not sure how much any of that has to do with Faded Gloryville, because Lindi Ortega is from Toronto.
It’s a delightful fact for me that Ortega hails from a city with a renowned indie rock scene and yet has carved out space for herself in a musical universe that isn’t usually occupied by native daughters of large, gleaming, international cities. However, first and foremost, and not incidentally, I love Ortega’s voice, and have for years. Citify a girl all you want, but a voice with that much glorious country in it will not go gently into the emo-stricken, smog-choked night. No, Ortega has a musical soul that belongs on the Canadian prairie or a fishing boat harbored in Grand Banks, regardless of where her hometown actually is. She belts out songs, even the songs set in the city, with a combination of resolve, empathy, and winsomeness that is grooved into calluses earned the blue collar way.
Secondly, I love the fact that Ortega is as good of an example as can be found to challenge the specificity found in the term “Americana.” Unless, of course, by Americana we’re referring to a continent and not a country. Canada’s craft beer scene is likewise challenging the perception that American craft beer occupies a dominant rung all by its red, white, and lonesome. Beer expert Michael Jackson (not that Michael Jackson … confusing for a music site, I know) was fond of tweaking Europeans by telling them that American beer was the best in the world. I have little doubt that if he were still alive, he’d embrace Canada with that quip, too.
My first interaction with Canadian craft beer came courtesy of Trackside Liquor in Medicine Hat, Alberta. I went in planning on stocking up on as much beer as I believed that I could get past the border guards; but having next to zero knowledge of Canadian craft breweries, I was somewhat at a loss on what to buy as I stared at the rows of delicious looking beer. The owner graciously took the time to discuss Canada’s growing craft beer scene with me and recommend breweries and specific beers. Going a step further, he gave me several of his favorite beers to take home. For being my gateway into Canadian craft beer, I owe Trackside Liquor and its proprietor a thank you.
Alas, however, my knowledge of Canada’s craft beer scene isn’t vast enough to pair Faded Gloryville with only Canadian beer. Most of the beer that I brought back from Trackside Liquor was shared with friends. I had enough to know that it was delicious but not enough to be able to expound on why anyone else should drink it. I wish that I could get away with simply stating “it’s delicious,” but I doubt that my editor would be OK with that. With all that in mind, please, using the comment section, introduce me to any and all Canadian craft beer that I have overlooked. The reality is probably that I didn’t overlook it; I’m simply unaware of it.
Faded Gloryville opens with a scorched-earth lament. Ortega’s darkly reverberating voice provides a glistening asymmetry to lyrics like “You showed me all this beautiful magic/ You disappeared in the smoke.” Packaging bitterness with beautiful trappings isn’t an easy thing to accomplish, but Ortega has layered hurt and hope, loss and gain, and anger and love into “Ashes.” Beers that live in the best of the worlds of bitterness and sweetness are likewise difficult to accomplish. Fuller’s ESB is that rare treat.
While not from Canada, Fuller Smith & Turner Brewing hails from inside the British Commonwealth, and that’s close enough. Besides, it’s hard to find a better ESB (extra special/strong bitter) than the one brewed in the famed London brewery. “Bitter” may be in the title, and, make no mistake, Fuller’s ESB does prominently feature a mouthwatering bitterness, but the beer also has more than a streak of sweet caramel and rich fruits coursing throughout.
Ortega’s first record label dropped her to make room for Lady Gaga. And, like most musicians, the Canadian songstress has spent her fair share of time playing bars and small music rooms, and having the music industry struggle with what to do with her. Success is almost always hard-earned; meaningful and beautiful songs that eulogize lost moments and reshaped dreams are rarely created without having earned it. Like their countrywoman, the brewers of Calgary’s Tool Shed Brewing Company have dedicated themselves to their craft and are releasing beers that speak to resilience, integrity, and commitment to excellence.
For many craft beer enthusiasts, Irish red ale is a style that lives in a no-man’s land of contemptuous dismissal. Passed over for more trendy styles, the Irish red ale has yet to land a solid spot in beer palates. Tool Shed’s Red Rage may very well change that. An Irish red ale that glories in yeasty breadiness while still delivering a rich, malt paunchiness, Red Rage is a beer that commiserates with the struggle of “Faded Gloryville,” but, like the song, has the necessary chops needed to transcend that struggle.
The liner notes lists “Someday Soon,” “To Love Somebody,” and “When You Ain’t Home” as the “Muscle Shoals sessions.” Of those three standout tracks, “Someday Soon” and its organ goodness is my favorite. Produced by Alabama Shakes’ Ben Tanner and John Paul White, formerly of The Civil Wars, “Someday Soon” has that rich Muscle Shoals water flowing through it. Ortega’s voice fits perfectly, and the funk and wail leaves the listener wanting more.
Regardless of country of origin or style, one of the best beers that I’ve ever had is Maudite from Quebec’s Unibroue Brewing. A Belgian strong dark ale, Maudite has the complex funkiness needed to stand up to “Someday Soon,” and has attained to a level of excellence that complements one of the best songs on Faded Gloryville.
“I Ain’t the Girl”
A defiant yet fun anti-love song, “I Ain’t the Girl” almost feels a little too personal. By that, I mean that Ortega exhibits a level of honest glee that spells out for the enamored listener that “So you can go ahead and try/ Pretend like you’re some other guy/ I’ll never be another girl/ I’ll never fit into your world.” Well. If the listener has fallen in love with Ortega by this point in Faded Gloryville, and let’s be honest, that’s hard not to do, she shatters any delusion that there is a future in that dream. And that’s perfectly fine; “I Ain’t the Girl” is so well-done, so engaging as to circumvent any possible resentment at being confronted with the inability to ever capture Ortega’s heart even though she’s captured yours.
This beer pairing may not be fair, but regular readers will forgive me, I think. Due to draconian beer laws, craft beer lovers often have to go to the beer because the beer isn’t allowed to come to them. Most of the beers that I’ve highlighted in previous articles are not available everywhere. Even taking that into consideration, however, may not excuse me for pairing a beer so locally specific with “I Ain’t the Girl” as to be unattainable unless people are willing to vacation in Pensacola, Fla. Which, now that I think about it, is a distinct possibility. I mean, who doesn’t love the beaches of Florida’s Gulf Coast?
If you do make your way to Pensacola, make sure to stop by McGuire’s Irish Pub and buy a growler of the restaurant’s Irish Dry Stout. Even if you can’t visit the snow-white beaches, the beer will make the trip worthwhile. As far as pairing it with “I Ain’t the Girl,” McGuire’s Irish Dry Stout is a great representative of a style that mainly exists only in the dreams of many. Most people have probably never had a decent, much less excellent, Irish dry stout, although many of those very people mistakenly believe that they have. Unlike the protagonist of Ortega’s song, the elusive style can be won. It’ll cost you some gas and hotel money, but it’ll be worth it.
Only four beers for four songs this week, but considering that the suggested beers are going to take you between Calgary and Pensacola with a stop in Ontario along the way (and not to mention a plane ride to London) these four beers are probably going to be the most expensive beers you’ve ever had. Don’t misunderstand; the four beers will be quite delicious. Add in the bonus of snow-white beaches and long drives through the lonely beauty of Alberta’s high plains while listening to Faded Gloryville, and you may find it money well spent.