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The haunting landscapes and mystical skyscapes of his native New Mexico form the backdrop for the story Fernando Ortega tells through his music. Each song has its own narrative (some of them crushing), but the impact of Ortega's music is the larger story that subsumes them all: God meets us in human situations, and sometimes those are dark places.

Ortega has recorded seven albums, but his three most recent—Night of Your Return (RPI), This Bright Hour, and recently released The Breaking of the Dawn (the latter two with Myrrh)—represent a body of work that establishes Ortega as a voice that departs from the "let's-just-praise-the-Lord" script. His music takes listeners where they might not have planned to go when they popped the cd into the stereo.

Handel, Smetana, Tull, and Joplin

Ortega's piano playing undergirds his arrangements, and his imaginative use of uillean pipes (Irish bagpipes), fiddle, cello, accordion, and flute accompany a haunting array of ballads, hymns, love songs, even a waltz. His songs have distinct Celtic, Spanish, and earthy folk flavor. These elements, combined with what one reviewer calls the "longing in his delivery," gives Ortega's music breadth and depth that embodies the mysticism of Michael Card; vulnerability like the late Rich Mullins; the pathos of Bob Dylan; and the vocal quality of James Taylor.

His musical sensibilities were ignited at the age of eight when he started training in classical piano. He was mesmerized by Handel's Water Music and Smetana's "The Moldau," but by age 13 he was "hooked on" Jethro Tull, Janis Joplin, the Beatles, and James Taylor.

His sensibilities about worship came about more circuitously. An odd mix of church experiences throughout his teens and twenties ...

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January 11, 1999

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