From the Basement: Beth Orton
From The Basement #4
Beth Orton/Central Reservation
It's a sad, sad world we live in when someone such as Beth Orton is found opening up for Bright Eyes. A performer in her thirties with such strength and creativity should be holding her own in venues everywhere. Throughout the late nineties and the early part of this decade, there have been numerous female pop artists who have come and gone…and remain virtually ignored. Artists such as Emme Gryner, Leonna Ness, The Tuesdays and Sinead Lohan are all examples of talented performers whose sound was either too mature or too feminine. For whatever the reason, these women never got the dues they deserved for creating charming, beautiful pop songs. Orton, however, is probably one of the most well known among them.
The English-born singer/songwriter first appeared in the music scene in various collaborations and projects throughout the early nineties, such as with Spill and on singles for Red Snapper. But perhaps her first, most notable collaboration was with the Chemical Brothers. She sang on the song Alive: Alone for Exit Planet Dust. The results were a dark but gorgeous song that blended the Chemical Brother's signature electronic beats with Orton's deeply mature and soothing vocals.
With three albums and two EP's so far during her solo career, she has perfected the art of blending acoustic folk with trip-hop beats to create an original, mature brand of female pop. Perhaps the best example of her distinct style was found on her sophomore album, 1999's Central Reservation. This is also probably the most known of all her releases. The single, Stolen Car, was at one time played relentlessly on college and independent radio stations where it became a modest hit.
Central Reservation features several notable contributions. Ben Watt of Everything But the Girl produced the two most electronic tracks on the album, which include a remix of the title track. But the most memorable and greatest moment has to be Pass in Time. The seven minute long bittersweet opus features jazz legend Terry Callier, who also appeared on her 1997 EP, Best Bit.
Despite my whining about the neglect of some of today's most underrated female artists, Central Reservation was ignored even by myself for probably the first year that I owned it. It wasn't until I popped it in during a long road trip and listened to the album straight through, in it's entirety, that I really appreciated it and grasped its brilliance. Perhaps it's a little long, it runs at almost an hour, but there is enough diversity to keep it not only interesting but also emotional and even a little haunting. Her voice creates such depth and intimacy that there are few comparisons.
Overall the album switches the focus from her more club friendly and electronic laden sound to one that is jazzier and more blues influenced. Yet, she still adds in her natural, earthy folk style. The result remains as smooth and laid-back as ever, if not even more so. This is the best and brightest Beth Orton album to date. It's bittersweet and positive while holding onto her confidence and distinctive melancholy that remains laced throughout all of her music. With this album she finds a space for herself separate from both electronic pop and singer/songwriter; a niche in the music world that is closer to jazz greats and vocalists of decades gone by then the fleeting talent of many of today's pop performers.
- Steph Haselman | 2003-06-19
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