Beth Orton first gained attention during the mid-nineties by
providing vocals for Electronica artists like William Orbit and the Chemical
Brothers. By 1996 she had recorded her major label debut, Trailer
Park. It was an intriguing blend of Folk and Electronica that was a hit
with both critics and the public.
Sophomore efforts are usually sink or swim time for most
musicians. (You have your whole life to record your debut and maybe
18 months to work on a follow up). But Beth Orton knocked it out
of the park with her 1999 release, Central Reservation.
Daybreaker (2002) and Comfort Of Strangers (2005) arrived in
quick sucession and seemed equally effortless.
It’s been seven years since Beth Orton has released any new
music. In that time she married and had two children. Obviously
raising a family became her main priority.
Now Orton has returned with a new album on a new
label. Sugaring Season is her first release for the Anti- label.
Anti- is an offshoot of the indie L.A. Punk label, Epitaph.
Although it’s roots are in Punk, Anti- boasts an eclectic roster of
artists like Tom Waits, Neko Case, Wilco, Mavis Staples and Rap
collective The Coup. Much like David Geffen’s storied 70s label,
Asylum, Anti- fosters an atmosphere that emphasizes quality
over profit.
Sugaring Season opens with “Magpie.” Lush and
pastoral, the tune weds stinging guitar riffs to a kick-drum beat.
The lyrics are forceful and resolute… “I won’t turn back I’ve seen
the sun, I won’t turn back not for anyone/ I’ve seen the sign and I
know what is mine.”
The whole album seems steeped in rustic pleasures.
“Call Me The Breeze” blends a galloping backbeat with swirling
pump organ fills. Orton seems one with nature… “Call me the breeze,
call me the stream/ Call me the sky, call me the leaves.”
“Dawn Chorus” is a hushed minor key masterpiece. The melody
simply shimmers over brisk Harmonium fills, plinky-plunky acoustic
strumming and Orton’s sui generis phrasing. Here nature serves as an
allegory for the splendor of love…”I was lonely as the moon who longs
for the sun to come by, I’d wait and wait and wait but never seem to
share the same sky/ Beneath the noise there was always silence, but what
is left comes on to surprise us.”
Finally “Candles” is a straightforward homage to the power
of Mother nature. The tune is anchored by a martial cadence and a
swirling string section.
The best songs on Sugaring Season are “State Of Grace,”
and “Last Leaves Of Autumn.” The former is a sparkling celebration
of love. The track builds slowly threading a sweet violin solo through
a tapestry of slippery piano fills and gentle acoustic riffs.
On the latter, Orton evokes comparisons to “Court & Spark”
era Joni Mitchell as well as the woefully underappreciated singer-songwriter
Laura Nyro. The instrumentation is stark and bare-boned, just piano
and subdued strings.
Other highlights include the jaunty, banjo-riffic
“See Through Blue.” “Poison Tree” which is based on a poem
by William Blake and the brooding “Something More Beautiful.”
Here Orton juxtaposes a surfeit of emotion with fluttery Stax-Volt
styled guitar riffs. The result is kinda Nick Drake meets Al Green!
The album closes with the evocative and ethereal
“Mystery.” The tune is almost a madrigal, showcasing Orton’s
soaring vocals, accompanied by understated piano chords.
Sugaring Season was produced by Tucker Martine in
Portland, Oregon. Martine is an up and coming producer responsible
for recent albums by My Morning Jacket, the Decemberists, Mudhoney
and R.E.M.
Orton seems to have completely jettisoned the electronic
elements of her music. The style of “Sugaring Season” hews more closely
to classic British folk like Sandy Denny & Fairport Convention and Nick
Drake. Some of the album echoes Heart during their Dog & Butterfly
days. This is her most assured effort to date. Hopefully we won’t
have to wait so many years for the pleasure of Beth Orton’s company.


Comments are closed.