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This month 23 years ago, Beth Orton didn’t just build on the promise of 1996’s Trailer Park, she blew right past expectations and into one of the finest albums of the fin de siecle.

Central Reservation is her second official album (she tended to disown her 1993 record with William Orbit, Superminkymandy – possibly because of the name; probably because it wasn’t that good and there was little of her in it) and in retrospect it filled in the details and elevated the intentions of its predecessor.

This is what was said at the time. Shame more room wasn’t available.



Central Reservation (Heavenly/BMG)

THERE’S A CATCH IN BETH ORTON’S VOICE, you could call it a cracking or a fault, which twists itself around your head. It starts off with a small gesture, the sort of thing that flickers at the edges of your vision so you don't notice it properly at first. You figure it would be easy enough to explain, but it soon becomes clear that it's all but intangible, "like catching snow on my tongue", as Orton puts it herself in Sweetest Decline.

The voice stays with you, pops up when you are reading something, watching the TV, buries itself in you. If there was a category of folk torch songs, Orton would be there with her lamentations, songs that yearn and celebrate, a voice that weakens and strengthens.

On her first album, Trailer Park, Orton - who has a background with dance producer William (Madonna and Blur) Orbit - wasn't confident enough to let the folk fly solo, flavouring many songs with a light trip-hop ambience. It worked, but this time around the folk is to the fore, even when surrounded by velvet strings (Sweetest Decline), treated beats from Ben Watt (Stars All Seem To Weep) or Garth Hudson-style organ (Love Like Laughter), and it is still as attractive.

This is an album to curl up with: don't rush it, don't force it, let it come and it will fill a hole you didn't know you had.


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