I've been a fan of Beth Orton from the early days, and have followed her career with great interest. I will admit that I was let down by her most recent album, 2006's "Comfort of Strangers", as it seemed Orton wasn't quite sure how to evolve from "folktronica" yet remain true. After a long 6 year wait, we finally get the newest album (released Cot, 2012).
"Sugaring Season" (10 tracks; 37 min.) kicks off with the most 'urgent' track on here, an almost epic "Magpie", which is the only track that features the backing band in full force. When tracks 2 "Dawn Chorus" and "Mystery" gently roll in, it is clear that indeed the days of "folktronica" are gone for good. But as the tracks go on by, what stuck me is that the album sounds deceptively simple, yet in the end plain gorgeous. Check out "Something More Beautiful" (co-written with M. Ward), which reminds me of the sound from Over the Rhine. My favorite track on the album is "Poison Tree", which kicks off the second half of the album, and it's like Joni Mitchell from 40 years ago. Track 9 "State of Grace" is in the same Joni-vein, just great. As "Last Leaves of Autumn" opens with Beth on pion, my first thought was "Nataie Merchant", and I mean that as a compliment as well.
At just 37 min., this album clips by in no time, and I have been playing this a LOT. I had the good fortune of catching Beth Orton live at the U Street Music Hall in Washington, DC last May, when she was 'road-testing' material from this album (playing Poison Tree, Candles, and Mystery), but also bringing many nuggets from the past (including a bunch from "Central Reservation" and "Trailer Park" such as Stolen Car, Sugar Boy, etc. etc.). What a great performance that was. Meanwhile "Sugaring Season" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!