Beth Orton, The Other Side of Daybreak (Astralwerks). Compilations of B-sides, rarities and remixes tend to sound like the aural equivalent of braunschweiger: all paste and no taste. As with most of her work, however, Beth Orton’s collection of folktronica sundries is a striking exception. A big reason, of course, is her dusky yet malleable voice, which is one of the most unique and listenable in the business today. Ms. Orton conveys a lot of different emotions with her quavery instrument, but when she takes on an achy number, you feel it the way an arthritic feels a rainstorm. But her interpretative chops are also damn fine: A stripped-down live acoustic version of her own “Concrete Sky” evokes a feeling of desperation that the studio version does not. And for her cover of the Five Stairsteps’ 1970 single, “Oooh Child,” Ms. Orton trades the pillow-talk positivity of the original for a Weltschmerz -freighted hopefulness appropriate for this sustained moment of uncertainty. When you hear her sing “Someday, we’ll put it together and we’ll get it all done,” you know that day’s not around the corner.
Loudon Wainwright III at the Bottom Line on Sept. 16 and 17. Whether he’s raging or goofing, Loudon Wainwright III makes you feel. His last album, Last Man on Earth , was a sad and searing look at mortality that was released in September 2001, just in time to serve as a soundtrack-along with Leonard Cohen’s Ten New Songs -for our own mortal thoughts. This time around, Mr. Wainwright is promoting a live album called So Damn Happy (Sanctuary) which, as the title suggests, finds him in a giddier state of mind and performing with a fine array of friends that includes guitarist Richard Thompson and pianist Van Dyke Parks. Save for the standards “Westchester County” and “The Home Stretch,” the album focuses on songs from Mr. Wainwright’s post-90′s output, plus five new songs-and as might be expected from the son of the man who ran Life magazine’s Los Angeles bureau in the 50′s, has a vivid sense of time, place, privilege and truth.
For the Joss Stone invasion. At a series of showcase concerts this past summer, the British Ms. Stone demonstrated that she is that rare combination of Anna Kournikova looks and 70′s soul-diva vocal chops, and if you weren’t there, you’ll be seeing and hearing plenty of her in the coming weeks. On Sept. 16 comes the release of The Soul Sessions (S-Curve), her debut album, which was co-produced by Betty (“Clean Up Woman”) Wright and features Ms. Stone’s interpretations of a number of soul staples, including Joe Simon’s “The Chokin’ Kind” and Carla Thomas’ “I’ve Fallen in Love with You.” So the youngsters will pay attention, Ms. Stone also covers the White Stripes’ “Fell in Love with a Boy.” The night her album is released, Ms. Stone is scheduled to make her U.S. television debut on Late Night with Conan O’Brien , and the following evening she’ll perform two shows at Joe’s Pub with a band that will include Ms. Wright and Timmy (“Why Can’t We Live Together”) Thomas. Catch her if you can. That way, you can say you saw her before the media tries to make her the next Norah Jones.
SO LONG, NORMAN
Falls on me
And all life folds back
Into the sea
We contemplate eternity
Beneath the vast indifference of heaven
The past seems realer than the present to me now
I’ve got memories to last me
And when the sky is gray
The way it is today
I remember the times when I was happy