Beth Orton

Comfort of Strangers (Astralwerks)

Beth Orton
This singer-songwriter from London got her start singing on tracks by mid-'90s electronic-music mavens like William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers. They provided her with fleshed-out musical settings before her songwriting had evolved to the point where she could provide her own; in return, she gave her collaborators' work an element of humanity.

Since Trailer Park, her celebrated 1996 debut, Orton has gradually dispensed with the techno-folk trappings that defined her early solo work. On Comfort of Strangers she does away with them entirely; it's an album of intimately rendered acoustic elegies, focused more than ever on Orton's singing and guitar-playing. Producer Jim O'Rourke (who's worked with Sonic Youth and Wilco, among many others) gives Orton's performances a beautifully understated clarity: warm guitars, rich organ, percussion that sounds like someone tapping your eardrum while wearing a mitten. Her songwriting reflects that sonic coziness; Orton's in confessional mode throughout Comfort. The album seems overly mellow -- until you dig in and root around.

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