Delivering one of 2006's most anticipated releases, Beth Orton, re-emerges with a self-assuredness that can be heard, or rather felt, in her songwriting, her vocals and her guitar. Features the single "Conceived."
Few vocalists equal the expressive subtlety of Beth Orton, whose fourth album is both her most musically spare and artistically complex to date. Not only does the production and backing by Jim O'Rourke (known for his work with Sonic Youth and Wilco) capture Orton's vocal style at its most unstudied and unvarnished, the lack of embellishment focuses all the more attention on her songwriting. From the jazzy phrasing on the deceptively jaunty "Worms" through the haunting "Feral" and the amazing grace of the closing, hymnlike "Pieces of Sky," Orton's songs give voice to the sort of knotty, prickly emotions that are as hard to define as they are deeply felt. Most of the musical dynamic features piano or guitar over an elemental, insistent rhythm section, making the coloring of an occasional string section ("Conceived"), harmonica ("Absinthe"), or accordion ("Safe in Your Arms") all the more striking. As an indication of the emotional range of this musical minimalism, the title cut is soothing enough to please fans of Norah Jones, while "Heartlandstruckstop" is as edgy as Patti Smith. --Don McLeese