Comfort of Strangers
First Appeared in The Music Box, March 2006, Volume 13, #3
Written by Tracy M. Rogers
Full of pop melodies and tales of lost love, Beth Ortonís Comfort of Strangers is equally influenced by Joni Mitchellís fetching folk, Christine McVieís blues-infused pop, and Dusty Springfieldís blue-eyed soul. Imbued with sadness and hope, the album finds Orton using religious imagery and subtle political rhetoric while spinning a web of minimalist musical bliss, and often, she complements her edgy, Cockney alto with only acoustic guitar, piano, bass, and percussion.
Nowhere is this more apparent than the opening track Worms. A rollicking, piano pop chantey, the song is a tale of tarnished love in which Orton goes from being someoneís beloved to being a fallen woman. "Now, Iím your apple-eating heathen/the original sin/well you ainít got my faith/so best keep your belief," she croons in the chorus. Elsewhere, she becomes a "rib stealing Eve" ó a clue that the track is as much about male chauvinism as it is about a love affair gone wrong.
Countenance continues the religious imagery, while adding political undertones to the mix. Opening with the lines "For those who preach forgiveness/while theyíre practicing revenge/man will do to man/but natureís got it all in hand," Orton relays a tale about finding herself in the midst of hypocrites who believe they can hide their sins from nature and God. Her message is one of karmic retribution for those who perpetuate violence and perpetrate crimes against other human beings.
However, itís Conceived that is the true standout track on Comfort of Strangers. On the surface, the song is another story of misplaced love that also manages to encompass Ortonís world view. "Didnít ask to be conceived/in a loveless embrace/still we learn to be a warm sun/round a very cold galaxy," she sings over a tender acoustic melody with strings. Her melancholic hopefulness and existentialist angst reaches itís apex with these lines. An expression of both dejection and faith, Shopping Trolley is also a high point for Orton: "I think Iím gonna cry/but Iím gonna laugh about it/all in time," she wails over a rollicking drum and electric guitar tune that belies the tuneís sobering lyrics.
Comfort of Strangers closes with two quite disparate songs: the funky, up-tempo Heart of Soul and the somber, piano ballad Pieces of Sky. The former is a plea for more love in the world, while the latter is an affirmation that life continues, even in the face of tragedy, because death and sorrow are inevitable. "And how do you know how much youíll be missed?/Does it add up to some names on a list?/Do you know weíre just pieces of sky/pieces of sky that keep drifting by?" she asks. For her, the answers seem to lie in faith and struggle, in love and life. Possessing both pop sheen and musical minimalism, Comfort of Strangers is a lyrical journey into Beth Ortonís personal landscape ó encompassing love and heartbreak, politics and humanity, life and loss.
Of Further Interest...
Comfort of Strangers is available from Barnes & Noble.
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2006 The Music Box