Norfolk’s biggest export since Bernard Matthews’ frozen turkeys, Beth Orton, appears to be on the verge of something very big in America right now. Whether it be on the soundtrack of Vanilla Sky or being namechecked on teen show Roswell High, Orton’s is the hippest name to drop in the States. She’s hardly an unknown over here either, but Daybreaker may well be the record that launches her into the mainstream.
Orton’s first two albums were rich in promise but seemed to be lacking that certain something that turns a good record into a great one. The blend of folksy psychedlia and ‘come-down’ dance was beguiling however, and Orton’s distinctive voice breathed life into even the duller tracks. Therefore it was always going to be intriguing when she released a record which matched her promise with a confident collection of songs.
Daybreaker is certainly Orton’s best work to date. While hardly radically different to Trailer Park or Central Reservation, there is a new found vitality to many of these songs. The usual eclectic mix of collaborators, such as Emmylou Harris, The Chemical Brothers, William Orbit and Ryan Adams all turn up to lend the album a wonderfully varied feel.
Paris Train is an atmospheric opening track, combining Orton’s way for an attention grabbing lyric (“Now you’re on a Paris train/laughing at your own jokes again”) with an effective orchestral backing. Similarly, Concrete Sky is a lovely lazy ballad, which blends Orton’s vocals perfectly with those of Ryan Adams. It’s a perfect summer song, the languid feel conjuring up idle days under sunny skies.
Orton hasn’t abandoned her dance roots however – the title track is another superb collaboration with the Chemical Brothers. From its slinky beginning through to a typical monstrous climax, this is probably their best work since Dig Your Own Hole’s Where Do I Begin?. William Orbit also makes a welcome return, mixing the album’s final track, the upbeat Talk About Tomorrow.
But it’s the more reflective tracks that really make this album. This One’s Gonna Bruise, written for Orton by Ryan Adams, is reminiscent of Adams’ Heartbreaker album. A fragile ballad, with Orton’s bittersweet vocals to the fore, the song is probably the highlight of the record. The same goes for God’s Song, a duet with country legend Emmylou Harris – the plantitive chorus of “he’s my man and I’ve been doing him wrong” will haunt you for hours after listening. It’s an intriguing new direction for Orton, and leaves one eager to hear how she’ll develop in the next couple of years.
While some songs don’t make too much of an impression initially (Ted’s Waltz being slightly dirge-like in truth), this is certainly Orton’s best album yet. Quite bootiful in fact…