Since the release of her 1996 debut “Trailer Park”, Beth Orton has been a critics’ darling. Her second full-length album “Central Reservation” proves that the accolades are completely warranted. The British folkie with the giant green eyes merges folk guitar, electronica, and her obsession with the melancholy to craft luscious tracks, dripping with raw emotion and irony.
Orton first splashed on the scene working with the Chemical Brothers on “Dig Your Own Hole.” On much of “Central Reservation”, Orton has eschewed her triphop leanings in favor of more exotic instrumentation. Recording with guest artists like Ben Harper, Dr. John, Terry Callier and Ben Watt, Orton has written songs that are awash in a sea of lush, dramatic strings, vi Ôbes, congas Stax-style organ, and brushed drums.
On the haunting “Couldn’t Cause No Harm,” Orton’s yearning vocals are distilled to a chorus of mmm’s that effortlessly weave in and out of the vibes. Orton milks the track “Sweetest Decline” with slow, dramatic violins and her achingly pained voice. Her vocals also drive the melodic acoustic guitar songs “Love Like Laughter” and “Feel to Believe” and pack the same level of emotion against the breakbeats of “Stars All Seem to Weep.” However, the album’s opus is “Pass in Time”, a seven-minute shimmering waltz about her mother, who died when Orton was 19.
Like the classic Blue LP from Orton’s idol Joni Mitchell, “Central Reservations” is a must for every rock fan’s collection.