Order     Song
 01    Someone's Daughter
 02    Love Like Laughter
 03    Touch Me With Your Love
 04    So Much More
 05    She Cries Your Name
 06    Sugar Boy
 07    Devil Song
 08    Best Bit
 09    Sweetest Decline
 10    Whenever
 11    Stars All Seem To Weep
 12    Blood Red River
 13    Central Reservation
 14    Stolen Car
 15    I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine 
 16    Feel To Believe


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Beth Orton Hypnotizes At The Tla


POSTED: June 07, 1999

Beth Orton isn't one of those singer-songwriters who constantly needs to remind listeners how clever she is. But Friday at the Theatre of Living Arts, after more than 90 minutes of exquisite balladry, she opened her encore set with an impressive and contrivance-free tour of her eclectic tastes.

The song was "Central Reservation," the title track of her current CD. From the folkish first verse, and its starry-eyed line about "stepping through brilliant shades, all the colors you bring," it was clear that the 29-year-old Brit was intent on stepping through musical hues as well. First, her fragile melody echoed the descending-steps sequences of Minnie Riperton's '70s hit "Lovin' You." Later, as the song moved to more philosophical terrain, Orton appropriated the chorus of jazz singer-organist Les McCann's famous meditation on reality, "Compared to What." Then, after she had said her piece, she drifted into a lazy scat coda based on Earth, Wind & Fire's "Brazilian Rhyme."

These quotations were not intended merely to show off Orton's record collection: She used them as a jazz improviser would, to enrich the atmosphere of the song, or to send the music off in a completely different direction. On "Central Reservation" and just about everything else she sang, Orton started with a plainspoken melody and an obvious structure, then trusted that a meditative mood or some healthy musical friction would develop organically. It did, again and again, and in each case, the capacity crowd followed as if under hypnosis.

Orton sings in a doleful, weary alto, and knows how to use understated sighs and whispers to push a song over the top. Friday, she treated her frail melodies gingerly, as though saying prayers. This cast quite a spell: "She Cries Your Name" and other electronic songs from her Trailer Park debut were transformed into elegies accented by plinking piano and acoustic bass. And though many selections had a languid, slow-to-medium tempo, she gave each a distinct aural ache: "Stars All Seem to Weep" was saturated with loneliness, and on "Sugar Boy" she let flashes of anger, and a trace of bitterness, rise to the surface. The band followed these ripples, providing a supple, empathetic backdrop that allowed Orton room to emote in her own quiet way.

Alt-country singer Kelly Willis opened, concentrating on songs from her current CD, the sparkling What I Deserve. Among the highlights were her thoughtful cover of Paul Kelly's "Cradle of Love" and a song she cowrote with the Jayhawks' Gary Louris, "Heaven Bound."

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