When Beth Orton sings about how far we've come or how far we'll go, something rustles inside. Escape and sudden liberation somehow seem possible. You want to grab you car keys, let your hair go, and "roll away." Orton's voice holds... [more]
When Beth Orton sings about how far we've come or how far we'll go, something rustles inside. Escape and sudden liberation somehow seem possible. You want to grab you car keys, let your hair go, and "roll away." Orton's voice holds familiar secrets that speak to us individually; she is an old friend, a sister, a neighbor, the girl at the grocery counter. Her lyrics are funny, melancholic, organic, and sometimes so true they are maddening. Orton sings with a heavy heart even when she is happy -- it's the burden that a full array of emotions can produce. Her work is a sweet, thick balance of huskily vibrating vocals, Dylanesque folk flavor, electronic sound bubbles, and pop modernity.
Orton's story began when producer William Orbit (the mastermind behind Madonna's "Ray of Light" electro-pop success) convinced her she had something bigger than she could imagine. Audiences first heard her as an anonymous, luscious voice on Orbit's 1993 album, "Strange Cargo 3," then in spots on some Red Snapper singles and the Chemical Brothers' "Exit Planet Dust." What Orbit and others heard was more than the voice (she sounds a bit like a British Sarah McLachlan); they felt the deep anguish and restless reality in Orton's lyrics. Finally, here was someone who could sing about complexity and darkness with a full range of light shining behind her.
Orton's songwriting is simple and accessible. On her first solo album, 1996's "Trailer Park," she sings such lyrics as, "I wish I never saw the sunshine, then maybe I wouldn't mind the rain." This song is a perfect illustration of how simplicity works for Orton: an acoustic guitar picks out a pristine melody while the silent spaces save the ballad from melodrama. The words could sound trite, but they're likable anyway. "Trailer Park" introduced Beth Orton as the new poster girl for the modern hippie, an artist who tears love, hate, betrayal, and liberation between the edges of easy electronic textures.
Orton's second album, "Central Reservation" (1999), is simply a refinement of her modern folk aesthetic. Hailed as a miracle by one critic, the work offers heart-wrenching love songs that droop with bouts of loneliness and then rise to melodious triumph. Orton's signature is her vocal sincerity; her range is perhaps technically limited but her emotional expression is spectacular and intense. "Central Reservation" represents a maturation of Orton's work, echoing the same smooth and irrepressible passion of her debut album but offering a new lyrical confidence. Orton's work is an appealing kind of pop humanism that resonates with everyone from leftover folk rockers to Top 40 fanatics and ravers in their quieter moments. [show less]