Beth Orton has always been accompanied by a narrative of loneliness. The death of her parents inspired many of her early songs, which told of a desire to find someone to fill in her emotional gaps; in interviews she has spoken of a battle for happiness and health since a young age. So it's heartening to see that in the flesh she's like a cheeky teenager, all giggles and comedy voices.
Perhaps to avoid the solitude, she frequently seeks the company of other musicians in her work, having collaborated with the Chemical Brothers, Ryan Adams and Beck among others. Bert Jansch performs with her tonight, and it is strangely unsurprising to learn that the British folk hero has become her guitar teacher. "I'm not very good," she giggles - inaccurately, as she makes an admirable job of keeping up with his fingerwork.
After Jansch leaves the stage, Orton plays new material from an album to be released next year (under the fitting title Comfort of Strangers). It seems her friendship with Rufus Wainwright has influenced the opening track, Worms - a fabulous, rhythmic hum-dinger in which she pounds the piano keyboard. Its lyrics are full of vivid images - Orton depicts herself as an "apple-eating heathen, a rib-stealing Eve". Worms wriggle around, chickens have "a wishbone where their backbone should be".
Unfortunately, once Beth leaves the piano, the material slides back towards her more winsome and less defiant side. Heart of Soul is a highlight, but her pace doesn't live up to that Worms piano beat, and you can't help wondering how great her music might be if she took a bit of her own advice about losing the wishbone and working on her backbone.
· At Colston Hall, Bristol (box office: 0117 929 9008) on February 14. Then touring.