Beth Orton | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

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Put Beth Orton onstage alone with a guitar and it's tough to tell she's anything more than an old-fashioned folksinger and songwriter. But in fact the Londoner made her name in the mid-90s by contributing vocals to electronica producer William Orbit's Strange Cargo III and the Chemical Brothers' Exit Planet Dust, and on her 1997 debut, Trailer Park--a natural extension of these collaborations--she wrapped her singing and strumming around danceable, midtempo drum loops. By contrast, 1999's Central Reservation was mostly chamber folk-rock, de-emphasizing electronics in favor of acoustic arrangements; her lyrics had a relatively introspective feel, and the tunes tended toward drowsy, downbeat fare like "Sweetest Decline" and "Feel to Believe." Orton's forthcoming third album, Daybreaker, due on Astralwerks at the end of July, falls somewhere in between--musically, if not lyrically, it's the closest she's come to a mainstream pop-rock record. Which doesn't necessarily mean it's all that mainstream: though "Concrete Sky" and "Mt. Washington" sound like they'd fit right in on an adult alternative playlist, the album ends with a clutch of fairly pure English folk tunes, all Orton originals. On a couple songs, "Carmella" and "Anywhere," the swooping melody lines, complicated fingerpicking, and boldly colorful arrangements recall Joni Mitchell's mid-70s work. And the title track ties a psychedelic-folk string arrangement to a rhythm program that sounds like a Neptunes knockoff. Tuesday, June 4, 7:30 PM, Metro, 3730 N. Clark; 773-549-0203.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Valerie Phillips.

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