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Beth Orton 

Comfort of Strangers (Astralwerks)

This singer-songwriter from London got her start singing on tracks by mid-'90s electronic-music mavens like William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers. They provided her with fleshed-out musical settings before her songwriting had evolved to the point where she could provide her own; in return, she gave her collaborators' work an element of humanity. Since Trailer Park, her celebrated 1996 debut, Orton has gradually dispensed with the techno-folk trappings that defined her early solo work. On Comfort Of Strangers she does away with them entirely; it's an album of intimately rendered acoustic elegies, focused more than ever on Orton's singing and guitar playing. Producer Jim O'Rourke (who's worked with Sonic Youth and Wilco, among many others) gives Orton's performances a beautifully understated clarity: warm guitars, rich organ, percussion that sounds like someone tapping your eardrum while wearing a mitten. Her songwriting reflects that sonic coziness; Orton is in confessional mode throughout Comfort. The album seems overly mellow — until you dig in and root around.

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More by Mikael Wood

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