The Phantom Tollbooth
Album Cover
The Breaking of the Dawn
Artist: Fernando Ortega
Label: Myrrh
Time: 11 songs/43:05
On this exquisite second project for Myrrh, Fernando Ortega shares songwriting "duty" with his producer, John Andrew Schreiner, and Elaine Rubinstein, his former poetry teacher.  Two of the songs, however, are traditional hymns:  the 8th century Irish hymn, "Be Thou My Vision," and "When All Thy Mercies."  The hymns and the songs, "Creation Song (Glory to the Lamb)," "If I Flee on Morning Wings," "Lord of Eternity,"  and "Jesus, King of Angels" serve as a foundation stone for the music and are reminders of God's eternal qualities.
The last track is entitled "Jesus, King of Angels."  Written by Ortega alone, it is a lullaby for the Christian and a love song for Jesus:
With all my heart I love you, Sovereign Lord.
Tomorrow, let me love you even more,
And rise to speak the goodness of your name
Until I close my eyes in sleep again.
The universe is vast beyond the stars
But You are mindful when a sparrow falls
And mindful of the anxious thoughts
That find, me, surround me, and bind me.
Jesus, King of angels, Heaven's light
Hold my hand, and keep me through this night.
Other songs are love songs, as well:  for Margee, Ortega's wife; for his grandmother, "Sweet Grace"; for New Mexico, where Ortega is from and where his weaver family has been for three centuries; and for the past, as in the title song, "The Breaking of the Dawn."  The lyrics were written by Rubinstein; it evokes such longing--a lonely, strange feeling in its beauty.
There is an amazing ability to convey that longing for what is gone--or for what is to be one day, perhaps--both lyrically and musically.  Ortega's voice is clear, plaintive, and lovely.  Background vocal harmonies by Cathy Schreiner and Kelly Willard do much to complete the sound.
The instrumentation gives a fullness without resorting to an orchestra. Mandolin, cello, and fiddle are used on many of the tracks.  The cello especially helps convey a sound of loneliness that is most apt.  The use of the mandolin and fiddle give the project more texture, a more interesting edge, than a symphony orchestra would have given.  There is a Celtic feel to several of the songs with a little bit of a "country" feel, here and there, as well.
If there is one concern, it is that a listener might not give this project enough of a listen.  At first glance, it might seem too mellow--for it is quite a meditative work.  As one becomes more accustomed to the songs, their unique features become more apparent.  Ortega's style of music is not for everybody.  It audience is mostly like the "overthirtysomethings."  But for the kind of music that it is, it's very good.

By Elisa Musso (10/27/98)