Face it – sister acts, especially those fronted
by a precocious teenager — generally aren’t considered prime candidates for credibility.
They’re either too cutesy, too cuddly or simply lacking in the depth or
maturity needed to give the music any genuine soul or conviction.
So what to make of Ortolan, a group that originated in a church, in all places,
after tween-aged singer/guitarist Stephanie Cottingham hooking up with a friend
to play a one-off talent competition? The Cinderella story absolutely
gushes with giddiness when it’s revealed that the crowd loved the budding 13
year old, so much so that she returned a year later with sisters Lara and
Brianna in tow, who she recruited on drums and bass respectively. To make
this Partridge Family moment even more serendipitous, the sister were then
spotted by the head of a respected indie record company, who was so enamored, he
eventually signed them to his label.
By now, most people would be gagging on the
saccharine sentiment of it all, were it not for the fact that the foursome
(sister Jill was added on vocals and keyboards sometime later) produced a
remarkably impressive debut, one that rings with effusive harmonies even as it
manages to avoid the giddy sentiments that might otherwise endear them to the
Hanna Montana crowd. Stephanie Cottingham writes songs from a knowing
perspective, filling them with tangled emotions and heartfelt commitment. For
every attempt at a cooing embrace (“Opposites,” “Insist For More”), there’s
genuine deep-seated drama (“Once,” “Sticky Situation”) to affirm an edgier
stance. Best referenced midway between the Bangles and Go-Gos in terms of a
girl group approach, there’s a kind of slacker sensibility at work here, one
that never muffles the drive or conviction. “I was meant for something more,”
Cottingham sings on the final track, aptly entitled “Anything” and indeed a
lyric has never sounded so true.
Standout Tracks: “Anything,” “Opposites,” “Sticky Situation” LEE