Beth Orton

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Emerging in the 1990s, English singer/songwriter Beth Orton combined the passion and beauty of the acoustic folk tradition with the electronic beats of trip-hop to create a fresh, distinct fusion of roots and rhythm. Released only in Japan, her first solo album, 1993′s Superpinkymandy, was produced by William Orbit, with whom she would work again in the decades to follow. She charted in the U.K. and Australia with her international solo debut, 1996′s Trailer Park, kicking off regular chart appearances highlighted by 2002′s Ben Watt-produced Daybreaker, which cracked the Top Ten at home and marked her only appearance in the U.S. Top 40. The acoustic-minded Comfort of Strangers (2006) found her working with Jim O'Rourke, and Tucker Martine produced 2012′s Sugaring Season, both of them Top 30 hits in the U.K. Orton’s seventh proper studio album, 2022′s spacey Weather Alive, offered a blend of beats, synths, and acoustic textures alongside a four-piece jazz lineup.
Born in Norfolk in December 1970, Orton debuted as one half of the duo Spill, a one-off project with William Orbit that released a cover of John Martyn’s “Don’t Wanna Know About Evil.” It was credited solely to Orton on her first album, Superpinkymandy, a limited, Japan-only release on Toshiba EMI from late 1993. Meanwhile, she worked with Orbit on his 1993 LP Strange Cargo 3, co-writing and singing the track “Water from a Vine Leaf.” She next appeared with the group Red Snapper on their first singles, “Snapper” and “In Deep.” In 1995, Orton teamed with the Chemical Brothers for “Alive: Alone” from their Exit Planet Dust LP, in addition to reuniting with Orbit for three songs on his album Hinterland. After assembling a backing band comprising double bassist Ali Friend, guitarist Ted Barnes, keyboardist Lee Spencer, and drummer Wildcat Will, she issued a 1996 EP called She Cries Your Name. Produced by Andrew Weatherall and Victor Van Vugt, her genre-fusing, full-length international bow, Trailer Park, followed that October on Heavenly Recordings. It reached number 68 on the U.K. album chart.
In 1997, Orton released the Best Bit EP, representing a move toward a more organic, soulful sound highlighted by a pair of duets with folk-jazz legend Terry Callier. The full-length Central Reservation followed in March 1999. Accompanied by a video directed by Hal Hartley, that album’s “Stolen Car” was a moderate hit among college radio, and tours across the U.S. were also successful. Central Reservation hit the Top 20 in the U.K., reached the Top 40 in Australia and New Zealand, and marked her Billboard 200 debut (at number 110). That year, she also contributed backing vocals to the Beck LP Midnite Vultures.
Orton had another minor adult alternative hit with 2002′s “Concrete Sky,” which she co-wrote with Johnny Marr and which featured vocals and guitar by Ryan Adams. It was included on 2002′s Daybreaker, which became her best-charting album to date, reaching as high as number eight in the U.K., 14 in Australia, and cracking the Top 40 in the U.S. It was co-produced by Orton, Van Vugt, and Ben Watt. That same year, she rejoined the Chemical Brothers for a featured spot on “The State We’re In” from their album Come with Us.
In 2005, Orton resurfaced with the single “Conceived” from her fourth album, 2006′s Comfort of Strangers. A Top 30 success in the U.K., the 14-song set was recorded in two weeks with producer Jim O'Rourke and saw her drop her trademark electronic elements for an entirely acoustic sound. She took a recording break and switched labels before returning to critical acclaim with the Tucker Martine-produced Sugaring Season on Anti- in October 2012. It also returned her to the U.K. Top 30 as well as charting in the top half of Billboard 200. Like its predecessor, the album was wholly organic, but for her next record, 2016′s Kidsticks (also released on Anti-), Orton re-embraced her electronic roots for the first time in 14 years, co-producing alongside Andrew Hung of Bristol experimental electronic noise duo Fuck Buttons. While it missed the U.S. album chart, it reached the U.K. Top 40 and Australia’s Top 50. She next released an archival single recorded in the late ’90s with the Chemical Brothers. A cover of Jeff Buckley’s “I Never Asked to Be Your Mountain,” it saw the light of day in 2018.
Beth Orton made an appearance on William Orbit’s The Painter LP, released in August 2022, the same month she delivered her seventh solo album, Weather Alive. Her Partisan Records debut, it offered an atmospheric blend of beats, synths, and acoustic textures with backing from jazz musicians Alabaster DePlume, Tom Herbert, Shahzad Ismaily, and Tom Skinner. ~ Marcy Donelson & Jason Ankeny