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Beth Orton - Central Reservation
(Arista)

The torch that is Beth Orton's voice is lit by a blending of cool British female pop singers through the ages—Linda Thompson, Dusty Springfield, Tracey Thorn, and Chrissie Hynde (British by association). Thankfully, Orton has the skill to do those icons justice, coming up with songs that it would be difficult to imagine any of those predecessors writing, but which it would seem natural to hear any of them sing.

Orton's music has been dismissed as ordinary folkie stuff with a trendy trip-hop overlay. This is not necessarily an unfair characterization, but it would be only fair to add the Seinfeldian postscript, "Not that there's anything wrong with that." And in fact, while songs like "Stars All Seem To Weep" and the single "Stolen Car" bear out this description, there's at least as much textural variety on Central Reservation as can be found on any Hooverphonic album. The ballad "Sweetest Decline" would fit right in next to most any Burt Bacharach-Elvis Costello composition, while the quirky "Couldn't Cause Me Harm" could almost pass for trip-pop a la Mono. The latter also boasts a cool, killer chorus. Guests on the album include a couple of Bens—Harper and Watt (of Ms. Thorn's band, Everything But The Girl)—and blues stalwarts Terry Callier and Dr. John. A record with such cohesive variety is a pleasant treat, and this second full-length effort is just that. Recommended without reservations.

YEAH YEAH YEAH, 1999