Comfort of Strangers (Astralwerks)

Beth Orton 

Comfort of Strangers (Astralwerks)

For a woman who has written some of the toughest introspection and sharpest hooks of the past decade, Beth Orton's last record was uncharacteristically washy. But on Comfort of Strangers, Orton — whose lyrics frequently negotiate a truce with the blues — is fully recovered from the melancholia of 2002's Daybreaker. The almost rustic arrangements have something to do with it, embellishing uncooked bass and gently arpeggiating guitars with the occasional hand-clap groove or concertina flourish, a sound that suits the crackly intimacy of Orton's voice. But it's the words and the bold, arching melodies that make Comfort of Strangers the English singer's best work since 1999's Central Reservation. "Heartland Truck Stop," with Dylan-ish lines such as We're all bridge builder's daughters with incestuous dreams, is the most beguiling track. Elsewhere, "A Place Aside" vividly evokes the romantic ache of classic soul and recalls the singer-songwriters with whom Orton is frequently compared. With the curtains pulled wider than ever before, Comfort of Strangers is Orton's most soulful album.

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