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Beth Orton 

Daybreaker (Astralwerks/Daybreaker)

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It's the voice that gets you -- like your pillow after a long day, or the coolness of water under a hot sun. Fragile, supple, human, heavenly: the voice of Beth Orton.

Daybreaker, Orton's third album, is as rich with gorgeous songs as Trailer Park and Central Reservation before it, but, as with those albums, it's the voice that steals your heart. Whereas the strength of Central Reservation was in its more traditionally structured songs -- the title track, for one, was a masterpiece of the folk form, with only a splash of electronics to hint at its modernity -- Daybreaker fulfills its promise in ambient tracks such as album opener "Paris Train," "Mount Washington," and "Thinking About Tomorrow." Each turns circles in your head, with clipped beats and swelling sound effects providing a hypnotic setting for Orton's refrains.

Where one might quibble with Orton's songwriting progress is in the predominantly acoustic, more straightforward folk songs on Daybreaker. These tend to veer toward the sappy or the dirgy -- or, more damning, the VH1-ready. (And "God Song" presents an embarrassment of riches, what with songbird Emmylou Harris on backup vocals; Orton should be dueting with rougher-voiced companions, for counterpoint.) 'Twas not ever thus; her melodies are more overwrought than they were on her prior albums. That said, complaining about any melody good enough to be sung by Orton is tantamount to sticking a needle in an angel's eye.

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