Beth Orton: Daybreaker

Beth Orton: Daybreaker

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Beth Orton

Album: Daybreaker
Label: Astralwerks

Since her breakout appearance on The Chemical Brothers' big-beat masterpiece Exit Planet Dust, Beth Orton has been oddly cast as an anomaly whose approach couldn't be less anomalous. A warm bath of a singer who made her name trading on post-rave cocooning impulses, Orton has increasingly fled her electronic beginnings on her solo records, moving beyond the laconic hobble of trip-hop to the preciously stylized warble of traditional British folk. The follow-up to her duly praised 1999 album Central Reservation, Daybreaker charts a pleasant middle ground rooted in orchestral rock, with no more electronic embellishment than, say, Sade's Lovers Rock. Enlisting help from a logical line of partners, from Emmylou Harris to Ryan Adams to Johnny Marr, Orton opens faultlessly with a broken heart and a Eurail pass on "Paris Train," which rubs teary memories against a time-stopping bridge worthy of Björk. Even better, "Concrete Sky" features backing vocals by Adams—not one to let a fellow singer-songwriter go unaccompanied these days—whose understated harmonizing makes a nice complement to Orton's gently forceful coo. About half of the album plods through bland, wispy material that gasps for hooks to latch onto and gives Orton too much room to show off her limited vocal range. But tethered to the horn-fed bossa-nova snap of "Anywhere," or a pair of down-shifted sunburst swirls that bear the imprint of The Chemical Brothers' production ("Daybreaker," "Mount Washington"), Daybreaker casts Orton as a stately songwriter making a brand of adult-contemporary music that's all the wiser for wear.