All the schtick in the world can't buy you substance.
How do you breathe life into folk rock? How do you stand out in a field as over-saturated as that of the singer-songwriter? Well, you can try constructing some MTV-style persona to help sell your songs (John Mayer anyone?). Or, if you're Beth Orton, you could take another road: distinguish yourself by playing deftly written tunes and singing them in an arrestingly ethereal, husky voice. Over the years, Orton has collaborated with the likes of the Chemical Brothers, Ryan Adams, Emmylou Harris, and Terry Callier. On her latest release, Comfort of Strangers, however, the focus is on Orton's voice alone -- pared with sparse, brooding pianos and sunny guitars. Gone are the moody electronic flourishes and dance-club sounds that marked her initial entrée into the world of pop music. In their place, Orton sketches songs, poems, and narratives that are tinged with the folksy vibe of a traditional troubadour.