Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Meet Beth Orton

The music of Beth Orton should be much more well known, but then again maybe not. Why does everyone have to aspire to something like pop stardom? Maybe it's a case of good things having to be sought after or stumbled on. Norah Jones, who seems like a nice enough singer, sells a ridiculous amount of merch, but somehow you're met with quizzical blank stares whenever you bring up Beth Orton's name.

The song Stolen Car, from her second album Central Reservation, is tense and haunting like the best of vintage Pink Floyd; think Wish You Were Here, think Dark Side of the Moon. It's my belief that Stolen Car, like Celluloid Heroes (Kinks), Santa Monica (Everclear) or Live Forever (Oasis), is an inter-generational, once in a lifetime song ... deeply moving, stirring, unforgettable.

Orton, whose plaintive, introspective persona makes similarly wistful, pensive artists like Lucinda Williams seem like the good-time antics of C&C Music Factory in comparison, is an acquired taste; her music is not gonna hit you over the head or grab you by the collar, but rather will subtly grow on you if you allow it to.

I will warn y'all, without getting all hyperbolic, that listening to her music opens up a Pandora's Box of emotional vulnerability. Comparisons to Neil Young are therefore apt, particularly on Young's lesser-known works like Tonight's The Night, Comes A Time or even Harvest and Everyone Knows This is Nowhere. It's folk rock that is sonically and texturally interesting, that moves you in gentle waves of sound.

And like Natalie Merchant, Orton's albums usually have two or three stunning tunes spread out on what otherwise tend to be somewhat monochromatic affairs. Upon request, I will burn anyone a great compilation CD of the best of her four studio albums to date; that's how important her stuff is to me. Like all good music, it means nothing if we keep it to ourselves.

When Orton puts it all together, the results are heartbreakingly gorgeous; her music will tug on the soft spot of the human condition, in the somber space that all sad songs inhabit.

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