Beth Orton certainly isn’t a new artist; the British singer-songwriter been on the scene since her early collaborations with electronic music pioneers William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers back in the mid-Nineties. However, after taking a long hiatus from the music industry — one that involved turning forty, having two children, living as a single mother in a barn, getting lots of therapy, and radically changing her engagement with the guitar — Orton is back with a new sound and perhaps the best album of her career.
Sugaring Season was recorded mostly here in Portland with acclaimed local producer Tucker Martine, and the Rose City’s distinctive vibe seems to have done something excellent to Orton’s songwriting. Continuing a progression that she began in her last album Comfort of Strangers, Sugaring Season leaves behind the electro-folk and trip-hop elements of Orton’s early work to fully embrace a delicate and hypnotic folk sound, evoking classics like Nick Drake and Bert Jansch alongside contemporaries like Mazzy Star, Jose Gonzalez, and Cat Power. Tim Adams of the Guardian talks about the effect that motherhood had upon Orton as a songwriter with Sugaring Season:
It’s tempting to listen to Sugaring Season as a postnatal album, or at least one in thrall to what Orton calls the “close proximity of heaven and hell” in parenting – “One minute it’s ‘Oh my God, this is so beautiful!’, and the next it is ‘Oh my God, just go to sleep!’” Looking back, she says, the real genesis of the record coincided with the birth of her daughter, Nancy, now six, and some of the songs directly celebrate their raw and all-consuming mother and daughter intimacy… Songwriting has always been a process, she suggests, of letting her unconscious mind lead her to unexpected places. The extreme fatigue of early motherhood seemed to help that process sometimes. “It was a sort of high,” she says. “And I guess that is why a lot of people do drugs, in order to fray familiar associations.”
Check out the videos for “Magpie” and “Something More Beautiful,” both from Sugaring Season, as well as a live clip of Orton’s cover of the Motown classic “Ooh Child.” Then, Stream Orton’s lovely new album in its entirety on NPR. Pretty much perfect for the first week of the autumn, isn’t it?