For many people who did their hard partying in the mid-1990s, Beth Orton is the sound of late nights and early mornings. She emerged out of the rave scene through her work with William Orbit and The Chemical Brothers, cornering the market in winsome folktronica. Hers was the album played in the home straight of all-night parties to let people know it was time to make a move or risk sharing the bus home with office commuters.
When her breakthrough album Trailer Park came out in 1996, she was the genre queen, long before female singer-songwriters in their various guises came to dominate British pop and acoustic music, arguably to the point it’s become a little repetitive. It’s interesting then that her first album in six years, ‘Sugaring Season’, sounds simultaneously reassuring and exciting — like putting on a comfortable pair of slippers and discovering that a two pound corner has fallen inside.
Produced by Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists), it’s instantly Orton; that gently electric voice, dripping with expression and emotion yet curiously restrained. Cold, warm, measured, deep — Orton has always had such enviable control over her instrument, and hearing it fresh is a reminder of its uniqueness.
The songs, meanwhile, take inspiration from various sources, from Roberta Flack’s ‘First Take’ album to Pentangle’s folk-jazz outings. They inhabit real and imagined worlds, both lyrically and evocatively, spinning words into tales and patiently layering parts and harmonies into rushes of trance-like, alt-folk symphonies. Opener ‘Magpie’ strides forward in beautifully textured movements, while the hypnotic, magical ‘Candles’ is eerie, sensual and seductive. ‘See Through Blue’ is pure English folk, tinged with accent and tradition; ‘Last Leaves of Autumn’ a fragile, torrid piano-accompanied ballad that reflects the overall tone of the album: introspective and endearingly uncertain, but consistently eloquent.
Review by: Rachel Devine
Sugaring Season is released on Epitaph 1st October 2012. Order it via our store.