It was an evening at MJ Kroll’s School of the Wise II showcase and veteran singer-songwriter Tony Ortiz had just stepped off the stage. You could feel in the air how much admiration the crowd members have for his ability. Kroll, Twin Cities Radio’s Jazzy J, and very pleased members of the public were sitting around tables, eyes wide taking Ortiz in as he walked over to shoot the breeze with this and that person. I felt like I was in the presence of royalty. Benign royalty at that: he’s a gracious guy who doesn’t have the least air of self-importance. For a cat with such cast-iron chops, he’s just one of the fellas, hanging out, doing his thing.
Before the night was out, I got a review copy of Someday, his CD. It’s pretty damned good stuff. All the cuts are originals, with Steve Shepherd doing the arrangements, producing it, and doing the mix. Ortiz did a couple of the tracks that night at School of the Wise II on just an acoustic, and actually carried as much power as the album, just stripped down.
The country-rock-ballad-cum-honky-tonker “Regular Joe” is a brightly spirited jaunt that delivers a shoot-from-the-hip take on not having to live up to a lover’s expetations if they can’t take you as they find you. “Someday” and “Let That River Flow” are splendid examples of what Tony Ortiz will do when he gets hold a gospel groove. “Someday” summons echoes of the old Impressions masterpiece by Curtis Mayfield, “People Get Ready,” even as it’s a marvel of original songwriting. Both tracks triumph with soul-to-the-bone singing that clearly comes straight from the heart. “Right Now,” dedicated to Ortiz’s dad, is a smooth, upbeat rocker I defy you to not get up and dance to, whether you’re in the club or at home in your living room. It’s just a beautifully done piece of true rock ‘n’ roll. There’s no word in the liner notes on who’s playing what instruments, which is too bad, because the band is burning. And whoever that is killin’ on the piano and the organ, it’s tight as a hell. The lead guitarist ain’t no joke, neither. Drums and bass have the pocket locked.
Ortiz’s vocals, no matter what mode he’s in, be it sweet ballad or you-know-what to the walls rocking, demonstrate pure, unbridled passion. He’s one of those artists who, when you hear him, baby, you feel him.