Label: Dedicated / Arista
Slapping an ephemeral moniker like “folktronica” onto the incredibly lush music of Beth Orton would be severely limiting to what should, theoretically, be a massive audience of sophisticated music fans. On Orton’s second record, entitled “Central Station,” she has picked up pretty close to the gentle ethereal landscape she left us off at on her sparkling debut “Trailer Park.” The orchestrations are quite a bit more realized this time around, substituting the hypnotic, electronic loops with a fuller slate of guitars, piano, and lightly swept drums. In addition to her slice-of-heaven vocals and poetic lyricism, Orton has managed to assemble a phenomenal cast of guests on this album: Dr. John on piano, Ben Harper on electric guitar, Terry Collier on some backing vocals, and Everything But The Girl’s Ben Watt to string together the beats on the album’s final track.
More than almost any female vocalist since Cocteau Twin Liz Frazier, Orton uses her voice as an instrument that just seems to linger leaving the chords effortlessly hanging long after she has finished the thought and the guitar note has disappeared. Vocally she sounds like one part Joni Mitchell, another Karen Carpenter, a dash of Nina Simone and a little Natale Merchant. This may provide you with an unjust description of her range and intent, but more than anything she has a very distinctive sound and approach to making music. On “Couldn’t Cause me No Harm” Orton practices her habit of mesmerizing us with the flowing repetition of simple choruses.
As a memorable mark along the rock music continuum, “Central Reservation” may not truly represent new musical ground, but Orton’s ability to put together such a totally consistent and complete collection of songs almost forces us to listen to the CD in its entirety instead of merely a few programmed tunes. Of the many admirable things about Beth Orton, her genuine love and knowledge of a huge musical spectrum and her reluctance to crap out and write “a hit” single seem to make her even that much more appealing.
“Central Reservation” is a collection of songs cut from the same cloth as those of Donovan, XTC and other dabbling classicists at their peak. There is no doubt this one will be around until your hair turns gray.