Beth Orton's typically only as good as the people she works with, partly because the Brit songstress has a sorta idiosyncratic voice; her clean, flat alto has an understated warmth that's easily overwhelmed by elaborate arrangements and inappropriate melodies. Like William Orbit, Jim O'Rourke gets how to exploit the singer/songwriter's low-key talents. The arrangements on Comfort Of Strangers take their cues from Orton's Best Bit collabo with folk-soul legend Terry Callier, offsetting her plaintive melodies with simple steel string picking, harmonica, brushed cymbals and piano. While Orton has a tendency to mimic her own melodies (Shopping Trolley could be Somebody's Daughter redux), she explores jazz structures here in engaging, exciting ways, and the indigent heartland iconography of her lyrics is beautiful without being cloying. Plus, the washed-out soul of the M. Ward-co-written title track, with syncopated percussion and gentle piano under Orton's weary sigh, is a career highlight.