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Friday, Feb. 24, 2006



Beth Orton "Comfort of Strangers"

British singer/songwriter Beth Orton's fourth album, "Comfort of Strangers," does little that is new, but that's not to say it's a disappointment. The 14 tracks are among her best, and are far more concise and instantly likable than those on 2002's "Daybreaker." Famed experimental musician Jim O'Rourke, last seen trading jazz chords with Sonic Youth, produces, adding often surprising flourishes to the arrangements, such as the strange bounce in the otherwise straightforward "Countenance."

Her band's stripped-down sound edges close to the folk-jazz of early Van Morrison, which could have been a good fit for someone singing so intimately. Unfortunately, the mixing often masks the songs. Orton's once-fragile voice frequently comes across as too harsh against the soft musical backdrop -- hardly ideal listening for modern-day noisy environments.

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