Beth Orton

Record review

SXSW Records

Beth Orton

Comfort of Strangers (EMI)

From the chilly confines of her debut, 1996's Trailer Park, emerges an older, wiser, earthier version of Beth Orton on Comfort of Strangers. A collaboration with guitarist Jim O'Rourke and Portland singer-songwriter M. Ward, Strangers was recorded in two weeks and, rather than feeling rushed, has a stripped-down, rustic, and folksy feel. It's the difference between the raw and cooked, from the "apple eating heathen" of the cheeky, bouncy opener, "Worms," to the heartbeatlike percussion reverberating subtly through "A Place Aside," in which Orton sings of the empty, always reserved place for her departed lover. Before, Orton seemed to be singing from an emotional remove, hiding behind a trip-hop conceit. Here, she finds (and delivers) Comfort in a more human touch. When her voice wavers on the quiet, fragile "Feral," you know you're getting the real thing, but it's not uncomfortably intimate. On the contrary, the London-based singer's fourth album is suffused with warm light. It's intimate, home, and it's never felt more comfortable. (Wednesday, March 15, 11pm @ Antone's)

***.5

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