By: Eric G.
Beth Orton’s third album, Central Reservation, steers away from the electronic bleats and beats of her breakthrough Trailerpark, bringing her hazy, gray folkiness to the forefront. Orton’s voice is nothing short of angelic. It posesses an inherent meloncholy in its sullen cadence that could take even the blandest songs to celestial beauty. Her songwriting is subtle and enigmatic, dabbling in everything from Bryter Layter-era Nick Drake to the jazzy folk of Tim Buckley or even the dark trodden paths of early, acoustic Bob Dylan.
Orton’s songs are by turn combative (“Stolen Car”), sad (“So Much More”), and ephemeral (“Central Reservation”). Her imagery cuts through the loose and languid flow of her achingly forelorn voice as in the title track: “I can still smell you on my fingers and taste you on my breath/stepping through brilliant shades- all the color you bring/this time is whatever I want it to mean.” Her folkiness is not contrived or kitschy like most modern-day-coffehouse-beat poet-wannabes, but rather very natural and serene. There is spaciousness in Orton’s music, which would explain why her electronic/folk fusion worked so well on Trailerpark, but the stripped down version here is just as effective.
Even when she gets overly ambitious on songs like “Pass In Time” with its naive lyrics and its melodramatic arrangement, Orton manages to overcome her vulnerability because her voice is that strong. She makes even the slightest missteps sound worthwhile. Central Reservation has its deepest impact when it’s just Orton and an acoustic guitar. She sounds commanding and wounded on both “Devil Song” and “Feel To Believe.” Her guitar echoes behind the lazy moan of her bewitching voice, which is underscored by her plaintive songwritng.
Making folk music sound futuristic is not a new concept, but it’s never had a voice like this either. Unlike Beck, who funnels a junk culture pastiche through his folk roots, Beth Orton makes folk sound pure again, and Central Reservation is the first album in a long time to reinvigorate folk music. This record will shake you up if you let it.