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Comfort of Strangers
     

Comfort of Strangers

4.0 2
by Beth Orton
 

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After 2002's Daybreaker, Beth Orton hit a wall. The album mixed Nashville and club-ville, and while her bruised vocals were as beautiful as ever, Daybreaker lacked the coherence her previous work. Comfort of Strangers, on the contrary, may be her most focused album, and her best. Produced by

Overview

After 2002's Daybreaker, Beth Orton hit a wall. The album mixed Nashville and club-ville, and while her bruised vocals were as beautiful as ever, Daybreaker lacked the coherence her previous work. Comfort of Strangers, on the contrary, may be her most focused album, and her best. Produced by Jim O'Rourke (Sonic Youth, Wilco), Strangers is a stripped-down affair with barely a hint of the electronic trappings that characterized Orton's early work. Although keyboards and strings occasionally sweeten the arrangements, most songs feature little more than Orton's guitar, O'Rourke's bass, and Tim Barnes's drums. And, of course, Orton's voice, which is the real star. Whether slow-burning and weary on "A Place Aside" and "Safe in Your Arms," tense and edgy on "Heart of Soul" and "Feral," or gentle and conversational on "Conceived" and "Rectify," Orton's understated alto manages to be consistently stunning without ever overshadowing the songs themselves. Orton wrestles with self-doubt and affairs of the heart throughout the album, but she also tackles issues of religion and politics and social justice in compact songs. Direct but not simple, Comfort of Strangers suggests that Orton realized that less can sometimes be more rewarding, for both the artist and the listener.

Editorial Reviews

All Music Guide - Heather Phares
After 2002's somber and overdone Daybreaker, it seemed possible that Beth Orton was losing the focus and freshness that made her so compelling on Trailer Park and Central Reservation. How nice, then, it is to hear those qualities in abundance on Comfort of Strangers, which Orton recorded in just two weeks with producer Jim O'Rourke and percussionist Tim Barnes. She was moved to work with O'Rourke after hearing his eloquently simple Halfway to a Threeway EP, and the folky-yet-sophisticated sound of that release and Insignificance serves as the template for this album, particularly on the slightly twangy "Countenance," which showcases Barnes' subtle, intricately shifting rhythms. Likewise, the melding of acoustic and electric guitars and piano on "Heartlandtruckstop" also sounds quintessentially O'Rourke. Of course, Orton's gorgeous voice and thoughtful lyrics are the stars of Comfort of Strangers, but O'Rourke's work is arguably as much of a draw as Orton's return is. The title track's intriguing mix of programmed and acoustic percussion, marimba, organ, and piano and "Conceived"'s muted electronics nod to both artists' wide-ranging tastes and influences. Though this album is one of Orton's simplest when it comes to sonics, it's still quirky and full of personality. It's also surprisingly concise; some songs, like the uncannily Fiona Apple-esque opener, "Worms," feel like barely more than sketches, but that's precisely what's so appealing about them. Without an overcooked, heavily polished production weighing them down, it's all the easier to connect with Orton's voice and words, particularly on the quietly strong "Shadow of a Doubt," which, like many of her best songs, radiates a unique sense of hope. Indeed, Comfort of Strangers is a happier -- or at least more hopeful -- work than Daybreaker, even on its most poignant tracks. The feeling of sunlight breaking through the clouds recurs throughout the album, whether it's hearing "Feral"'s beautifully smoky folk blossom into something bigger and sweeter, or how "Shopping Trolley"'s incandescent guitars and propulsive drumming make the song even more buoyant. Even "Safe in Your Arms," one of a small handful of true ballads on the album, moves from bittersweet to uplifting without being overly sentimental. One of the comforts of strangers is the fresh start that they offer. This album could be seen as a fresh start for Beth Orton, and she makes the most of it: as artlessly lovely as a spring day, this is some of her simplest work, and simply some of her best, too.
New York Times - Ben Ratliff
The album is as direct an expression of Ms. Orton's songwriting style as she has made; warm and concise, it has found perfection in its reduced gestures. It's a beautiful record, and basically antichic.
Los Angeles Times - Richard Cromelin
1/2 Her best album since her debut.... Orton's distinctive singing is the glue. Her once-smooth voice is now slightly pitted and scarred, adding a sense of experience and authority.

Product Details

Release Date:
02/07/2006
Label:
Astralwerks
UPC:
0094635234527
catalogNumber:
52345

Related Subjects

Tracks

Album Credits

Performance Credits

Beth Orton   Primary Artist,Acoustic Guitar,Harmonica,Percussion,Piano,Electric Guitar,Vocals,Background Vocals
Jim O'Rourke   Organ,Acoustic Guitar,Bass,Percussion,Piano,Electric Guitar,Marimbas,Background Vocals,fender rhodes
Rob Burger   Organ,Piano,Accordion,Slide Guitar
Tim Barnes   Percussion,Drums
Okkyung Lee   Cello
Karen Waltuch   Violin,Viola

Technical Credits

Jim O'Rourke   Composer,Producer,Audio Production
Beth Orton   Composer,Art Direction,Illustrations
M. Ward   Composer
TJ Doherty   Engineer

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Comfort of Strangers 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
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