ORTOLAN album review

by jack diablo
Once upon a time, family bands ruled supreme. They were the favorites of variety TV programs like the Lawrence Welk and Ed Sullivan shows until rock ‘n roll took over and ushered in eras of varying degrees of shock and extremism. Although not completely forgotten thanks to the efforts of revivalists like the Carpenters and of course, the Partridge Family, family-oriented music has seemingly been divided into music for adults and music for children.
But lately, it seems the pendulum has begun to swing the other way and riding it to the top are a group of sisters ranging from ages 16-23 going by the name of Ortolan. This month they release their first full-length album Time On a String.
At only 16, youngest sister Stephanie not only leads the band but is also responsible for its genesis. Playing her first show at a church coffeehouse at 13, she later recruited her two older sisters to join her on drums and bass where they won the eye of Sounds Familyre Records who suggested they record immediately. Now joined by sister-in-law Jill on keys, Ortolan are well on their way to solidifying a place not only for themselves in the annals of American music, but join acts such as Sufjan Stevens in proving the relevance of, for lack of a better word, conservative music.
Vocally, she conjures a more playful Regina Spektor but her lyrics defy her tender age with surprising maturity. Evocative of those family bands from the 50s and 60s as well as the tiny songbird that gives them their namesake, Ortolan’s songs capture an innocence and wholesome quality that is hard to find if not absent from today’s music.
No stranger to the family band concept and semi-spiritual song-craft, Daniel Smith produced the record at his New Jersey Recreation Room studio. As one who successfully made the cross-over from obscure Christian band to indie sensation with his band Danielson, Smith is uniquely capable of handling the delicate nature of this album.
Ortolan hit the ground running with this album and will make appearances at this year’s Harvest of Hope Fest and SXSW.