[Metroactive Music]

[ Music Index | San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

Beth of Fresh Air

[whitespace] Beth Orton No Reservations: With raw vocals, Beth Orton achieves total abandon with her songs.

Lilith Fair's Beth Orton brings a cutting edge to her emotional brand of folk

By Troy Johnson

'I THINK I HAVE a kind of cut-off mechanism--I try not to get too taken by it," Beth Orton--who appears July 13-14 at Shoreline as part of the Lilith Fair tour--says of the media blitz flapping around her music. Her acclaimed debut in 1997, Trailer Park, went gold in England, and the singer/songwriter was labeled "electro-folk Comedown Queen." Accordingly, the British singer's second effort, Central Reservation, engendered near-millennial anticipation among music critics and fans alike. "Yes," she admits, she felt the pressure. "I dealt with it by kind of ... uh, freaking out. No--I tried to blot it out of my mind and not write for it and keep pure."

Purity comes best in tight packages, as do Orton's lyrics. She's less verbose than Charles Dickens but just as emblematic of street-level London. Tutored under electro-ambiant producer William Orbit, she may just be a mature version of the attractive, soul-mama sound of emotional neophyte Fiona Apple.

In 1989, at age 20, Orton met Orbit at a club where he was working. From there, a collaboration began as Orton took an armful of dance influences and stuffed them through the hole in her acoustic guitar. In the time between Orbit and her solo career, she recorded with the Chemical Brothers and trip-hop gang Red Snapper. Now her own music is more like a raver's after-party, a relaxed, five-string recollection of why people dance straight through the wee hours--to sweat out the toxins of life.

Orton's life reads like a clay pigeon in the firing line of a sharpshooter. Her father died unexpectedly of a heart attack when she was 11. Seen as a freak in school, she was picked on; at 13, she stopped going and adopted a penchant for nightclubs and booze. So her mother moved them to London when she was 14 for a new start. Five years later, a week after Christmas Eve, her mother died of breast cancer. The singer was diagnosed with Crohn's disease. She did the most logical thing--she had a breakdown. Later, she credited music with saving her life.

Today, Orton is witty enough and experienced enough to rightfully be a jaded wretch but instead is disarmingly charming and frank. Her music, though emotionally jarring, is perched on the soapbox of hope. She's a product of instinct--says she trusts it with her life: "I work so much from the unconscious that I sometimes only find out later what my initial inspiration was. Sometimes it just all blurts out together."

Yet none of this explains how her folksy music herds in fans of the cutting edge. It could be because her raw, wounded-but-walking vocals over an electronic wallpaper of sound achieve the same end--total abandon. She's the anti-beauty, which secures a certain inalienable allure.

Orton writes lyrics in Confucius- esque philosophical snippets. Some come out like a fortune cookie trying too hard. Some are quotable gems. Validating both is a voice made of sugar and spice and everything nice.

On Reservation, some words migrate from insight into the land of cliché, but the full-body aural massage of her vocals causes the listener's poetically critical mind to bow to the melodically drunk ear. "The worst part is that they're like naughty children--ideas--they come at the worst times," she says. "Something will pop into your head and you'll go, 'Oh God, not now! I was just about to fall asleep or pay bills or something like that.' And you just have to get up and start writing because if you don't, it'll never come back."

Her new album is speckled with samples from musical giants. Guest players include Terry Callier, Dr. John, guitarist Ben Harper, David Roback of ponder-rock masters Mazzy Star and Everything but the Girl's Ben Watt. Yet, somehow, nothing reeks of theft. With her heart-on-sleeve-but-ask-no-pity style, she seems to have found what '90s music has been searching for after the hangover of disco and glam rock wore off--emotive realism.

What a novel idea.

The Lilith Fair takes place Tuesday-Wednesday (July 13-14), starting at 3pm at Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View. Tickets are $31-$76. (BASS)

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the July 8-14, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

Foreclosures - Real Estate Investing
San Jose.com Real Estate