Beth Orton Beth OrtonSugaring Season
Beth Orton felt lost for a long time and this “Sugaring Season”, her first sign of life in over five years, is the result of her finding herself again. “Comfort Of Strangers” (2006) was a turning point: after that album, Beth became a mother, twice, she separated, went through a bout of depression, saw a psychologist, fell in love again, moved from the city to the countryside and switched from calm to turbulence. Basically, life (living with someone, the responsibility of having kids, the routine) was a bit overwhelming for her. In the meantime, the kids have grown up (they can come on tour with her now), Sam Amidon has come into her life as a partner and as a musician, she’s signed to a different label (Anti-, in 2010), and she's found some new experiences to sing about, feeling she's still got a lot to say. It's no surprise the album is called “Sugaring Season”, the time of the year when the fruits come to maturity, reaching the point they're sweet enough to eat. She was a dead tree that has bloomed, become beautiful again and is now giving off delicious fruits.
In Beth Orton's career, “Sugaring Season” belongs to the second stage, the one started with “Comfort Of Strangers”, her most openly acoustic record, without any electronic production (unlike previous efforts, which featured productions by William Orbit, Andrew Weatherall, and Ben Watt), and with an abundance of strings, choral harmonies, and rural guitars. The LP was a bit of a disappointment to the fans of her three previous titles - “Trailer Park” (1996), “Central Reservation” (1999), and “Daybreaker” (2002), key pieces of English folk with a chill-out undercurrent - not because of the quality of the songs, but because of the way she dressed them up. And although she has expressed a certain nostalgia for her clubbing days (which, what with the kids and all, are definitely over), suggesting that she wouldn't mind going back to the electronic embellishments, “Sugaring Season” had to be a reconciling record, calm and optimistic, without room for any boasting.
Recorded in Portland with Tucker Martine (My Morning Jacket, The Decemberists), this album features some notable collaborations with people like Sam Amidon and Marc Ribot, and fulfils its retro commitment with three covers (only included on the deluxe edition) of tracks by Jonathan Richman ( “That Summer Feeling”) and Goffin & King ( “I Wasn’t Born To Follow”, “Goin’ Back”). As a whole, it's a piece of pop-folk that envelops you like a warm sheet, delicate and soft. In fact, we see a glimpse of Beth Orton at her best (which might have been “Stolen Car”, the first song on “Central Reservation”, of which new pieces like “Poison Tree” and “Magpie” are reminiscent), only with the firm intention not to charge the structures with unnecessary embellishments or to go for an all too hip sound.
Orton has always been interested in the English folk of the 70s, from Pentangle to Vashti Bunyan, and “Sugaring Season” reaffirms this fascination. It's no coincidence that it was an epiphanic meeting with Bert Jansch, not long before he passed away a year ago on 5th October, that made Beth Orton find herself and her self-confidence again, which encouraged her to forget about forgetting about music and start writing again. Something as simple as recognising the emotional power of a song and wanting to make one again: and, judging from splendid tracks like “Last Leaves Of Autumn”, extremely beautiful with very few means (piano, violin, her voice recorded with extraordinary clarity, almost on the verge of breaking), we can safely say Beth Orton is back, releasing probably her third best album ever. Last decade's folk boom forgot about her, and now that the folk is gone, she's returning, with her splendour intact, giving us another perfect Sunday morning LP, both for when you're just waking up or when you haven't gone to sleep yet, bathing in the weak autumn light.