Author: Bruce Jenkins  Date Posted:22 July 2022 


If the mesmerising electronica-infused folk songs on Beth Orton’s 1996 album Trailer Park seemed to come out of nowhere, that misconception is part of the magic of her 'debut'. Although only twenty-six years of age, Orton had already built an impressive CV of collaborations and releases. Here’s a little background:

  • Joining William Orbit as one half of the duo Spill, Orton released a cover of John Martyn’s fabulous "Don’t Want To Know About Evil" in 1993.
  • She appeared on Orbit’s Strange Cargo 3 album and the later Hinterland.
  • Her own debut album came out in 1993, a Japan only release.
  • Orton appeared on two Red Snapper singles.
  • She collaborated with the Chemical Brothers in 1995.

So it is clear that the critical and commercial success of Trailer Park was built on a sturdy foundation of both hard work and an openness to explore and experiment.

The album opens with the deliciously downbeat single "She cries your name", an uncomplicated song highlighting the strengths of both the singer and the musical arrangements. The plaintive vocal tone, its languid delivery, and the pattering of trip-hop percussion create a unique calling card, one that invites you to visit Orton’s folktronica world without delay.

There’s plenty of variety to be found across the eleven songs. Sink into the pensive waltz time of "Don’t need a reason" or bop along to "Live as you dream" (featuring a fine Hammond organ part by Sean Read). Legendary musician/producer Andrew Weatherall makes his presence felt on several tracks, especially on the spacious canvases of "Tangent", "Touch me with your love", and epic closer "Galaxy of emptiness".

Despite the "modern" 90s sounds sprinkled across Trailer Park, the folk roots and singer/songwriter craft of Beth Orton shine through. "Sugar boy" and "Someone’s daughter" illustrate the claim admirably.

After pretty much inventing a new sub-genre with Trailer Park, Beth Orton recalibrated her sound for the next album, Central Reservation. Released in the last year of the millennium, this is a simpler, folkier sound, leading to more direct communication with the listener and, as a result, a greater intimacy. The cool detachment of the electronic angel dust is mostly gone, leaving Orton’s songs more in the spotlight than ever before. How, you might wonder, do they hold up?

Due largely to the warm soulfulness of Orton’s delivery, very well indeed. This record is more traditional folk in many ways, focussing on the lyrics and stripped back arrangements. The guitar work of Ted Barnes is impressive, as are the contributions from soul/jazz/folk artist Terry Callier. The duet between Callier and Orton on "Pass in time" is superb and sits at the heart of Central Reservation.

Fans of Suzanne Vega or Nick Drake will find much to enjoy on this assured, pleasing album, while the occasional jazz inflections even hint at legendary Sixties creative alchemists Pentangle. Certainly Beth Orton fans were pleased with her second 'proper' record, as were the critics: she was named Best Female Artist at the 2000 Brit Awards.

So do you head for the trailer park or make a central reservation? Having spent time with these excellent albums, it is difficult to choose a favourite. If you like the sound of Beth Orton—and who wouldn’t?—I’d suggest both.


© Bruce Jenkins — July 2022


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