What is known as the Sugaring Season runs in the US state of Vermont from around March to mid-April. It is when producers all around the state collect maple sap and boil it down to the sweet sticky syrup. It is the same maple trees that lead to that stunning sweep of colour in the vibrant fall foliage. Beth Orton's new album seems to combines both events. It is very much a hymn to Autumnal and pastoral moods but combined with a lovely bruised fragility which makes this album such a real treat.
Gone is all the shimmering electronica and digital files of the dallainces with Andy Weatherall or the Chemical Brothers, indeed the template is much more in tune with her frequent collaborations with Ryan Adams. Following a lengthy hiatus to bring up her daughter this is her first album in six years that firmly sticks to the acoustic knitting and is all the better for it. In that time she built up a considerable backlog of songs and in the selections here has largely chosen wisely. Opener "Magpie" has a bluesy tint to the essential folk based melancholy. It builds to a big finish as Orton's vocals stretch and the intensity ratchets up. More gentle are the following tracks, the lifting pop of "Dawn chorus" and the almost Nick Drake sounding guitar backdrop to "Candles" where Orton's haunting vocals are at their very best. The slow piano ballad laden with violins "Something more beautiful" is an undoubted highlight and will replay repeated listens. One sour note comes in the form of the Weimar cabaret of "See Through Blue" where she tries to adopt a Dietrich style loftiness but it all feels rather contrived and breaks the flow of the album. Still it comes in under two minutes and is followed by "Last leaves of Autumn" which is one of the best things Beth Orton has ever done. This reviewers favourite however is the lovely closing track "Mystery" a wonderful haunting ballad that echoes the song writing skills of the great Sandy Denny. Orton's chalky voice has never been better employed and as it gently fades out you touch the repeat button and listen in rapture once more. For those wanting more you will wish to note that the deluxe edition also contains three extra tracks namely covers of "That Summer Feeling" by Jonathan Richman, a nice take on the Carole King standard "I Wasn't Born To Follow" made famous by the Byrds and a haunting version of Neil Young's "Goin Back" from the "Comes a time" album.
Orton has admitted in interviews that it was listening to Joni Mitchell's seminal album "Blue" that provided her musical coming of age. It has served her well since "Sugaring Season" has echoes of Mitchell, Sandy Denny, Cat Power and a host of others. There is nothing revolutionary or radical about this album but it makes up for this with moving honesty and fine melodies. More than that after six long years it signals a return to form by an artist who has built up an admirable and deserved reputation as a top notch songwriter with an album which will be ranked amongst her best. Its good to have her back.
on 20 October 2012
Anyway I am a massive Beth Orton fan... but this is a step away from her usual dancey spin offs... this is mature, sweet, haunting and best listened to at night when you want to chill... My boyfriend is a die-hard reggae fan and even he fell in love with Beth.
It's not her most accessible album but it is a jump from her previous stark 'Comfort of Strangers' (also amazing) and after a few listens I started to navigate the album. It's a whole album experience rather than a singles machine. Beth's voice is just soooo beautiful!!!!! Can't wait to see her live!!!
on 28 October 2012
It's great that Beth is back in circulation again with a good album and I'm looking forward to seeing her in concert but Amazon screwed up on the description. When I pre-ordered the album about a month before its release, Amazon's website was showing 13 tracks on the CD and only 10 tracks on the MP3. I thought it a bit strange but I was a bit pissed off but not totally surprised when it turned out the other way round and no apologies from Amazon regarding their mistake. If they had got it correct at the beginning I would have ordered the MP3 version instead
on 3 October 2012
I must admit to being a big fan of Beth Orton, having seen her live many times and bought and listened to all her previous albums. Objectively, it has been hard to compare albums to her first, Trailer Park being such a classic for me, but this new album definitely stands apart, fantastic songwriting allayed to some super sonics, at least on the first half of the album, it drifts a little in the second half but I am excited about hearing these songs live.
If you have never heard Beth Orton before, this is a fine place to start, if you have and didn't see what the fuss was about, this may not change your mind on first listen but stick with it, there is real beauty to be found.
Here is hoping this is the start of a more prolific period... I can't wait another 6 years!!!
on 3 October 2012
The last three tracks listed in the product information are not actually on this cd - they are bonus tracks on the deluxe MP3 edition and Amazon have mistakenly said that you can get them on this cd too. Just so you know...
on 19 January 2013
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!
on 20 December 2012
Six years is quite some gap since the last album, the stripped down 'Comfort of Strangers', so I approached this album with considerable interest and some trepidation. I have all five studio albums Beth Orton has released since the 1990s: to my mind, 2002's Daybreaker is the target to surpass, and even after several listens to 'Sugaring Season' it remains so, but.... This is probably the least 'instant' of her albums, despite a few obviously commercial tracks like 'Call me the breeze', but it does grow on you considerably with listening. Stick with it. In style, it's closest throughout to the more acoustic numbers on 'Central Reservation' like 'Devil Song' and 'Blood Red River'. So expect acoustic guitar, quite a bit of violin, understated keyboards, percussion and vocal accompaniments; some strings, but without the excessively slushy arrangements that detract from a few of her early tracks. On the other hand, there's not much overdubbing, few electrics and no electronics, albeit not to the extremes experienced with 'Comfort of Strangers'.
It's worth getting the MP3 de luxe version as, without the extra three cover versions it provides, this is a pretty short album. Surprising, as you'd assume there must be quite a build-up of new material over the last six years. I saw her live 18 months or so ago and, of the unrecorded songs she played, I recognise few that appear on this album. The only dud on this album is the (mercifully short) waltz-time 'See Through Blue', which reminds me of a David Bowie 'Alabama Song' moment: you're left thinking there must have been something better that could have been substituted. Apart from this short hiccup, the rest melds together seamlessly and beautifully, with partner Sam Amidon providing an ideal vocal and instrumental foil for Beth's still excellent and expressive voice.
I see no point in talking in terms of a 'return to form': Beth Orton's trajectory is much more like a zigzag between styles and arrangements. She does what she wants, and hopes the audience will follow, which is much preferable to chasing easy approval. 'Sugaring Season' is just different to the early electronic work. It has elements in common with 'Comfort of Strangers' and 'Central Reservation' and, if you like that style, you certainly won't be disappointed. If you want another 'Mount Washington' or 'Galaxy of Emptiness', I suspect those days are gone, but give this album a few listens and I'm sure you'll see other merits in it. And you won't want to have to wait another six years for more.
on 31 October 2012
A very welcome return from Beth Orton, who in the 37 minutes of this album brings back home a mellow return to the furrow she was last ploughing 6 years ago. I've read other reviews which interpret this album as a change in direction, ditching the electronic touches of Orbit et al and developing a leaner sound built on honed guitars and the folk influences of Sam Amidon. I'm not so sure, perhaps my old ears are deceiving me but I'm still hearing a strong undertow of what makes Beth Orton one of the greatest singer-songwriters to come out of Norfolk (a county that also gave the world Cathy Dennis, Myleene Klass and Hannah from S Club Seven). Undoubtedly, the folky production values of Tucker Martine (Decemberists) are at play but in opening track 'Magpie' and 'Call Me the Breeze' there remains that driving, upbeat, outward looking songwriting which really highlights Beth's richly layered vocals and her ear for a devilishly good melodic simplicity. Elsewhere, 'Candles' has hints of the slurred bass and drifting beats which ran like a seam of rich coal on Beth's earlier albums. 'See Through the Blue' is the odd juxtaposition, a jerky, waltzy hurrah before the album settles down to a trio of gentler folk songs. This is an album to hunker down for the midwinter; whiskey and fireside music. Rejoice in the return of a long lost friend.
on 3 October 2012
Six years has been too long and it is nice to have some new Beth Orton in the world. Only had a couple of listens so far but it very much reminds me of Central Reservation so if you liked that album then this is one you should get.
on 12 March 2016
Consistent quality is one of Beth Orton's real strengths, and although there isn't (for me) a stand-out track, the other side of the coin is that there isn't one I'd skip through either. In terms of her previous albums, this is (to me) more in the style of Comfort of Strangers than any other, and I'll admit that it took a little longer for me to get into that one than the others. Sugaring Season will grow on you, and it's an album that I think I'll still play in 10-15 years' time, just as I've done with every other Beth Orton album. Not because they're jaw-dropping, astounding seminal works, but because they're all very much fit for purpose. And every once in a while, in the mood of a moment, something in the music that you haven't noticed before will come to the surface, and you'll hear it, and you'll reflect. And on reflection, you'll wonder why you never noticed before. And you'll realise that Beth Orton, she's really somewhat better and maybe more intelligent than everyone takes her for on face value.
So, I've given it four stars, because that's where I am with it at the moment. But if I was writing this review in a decade, I think I'd be adding the fifth. Beth Orton's albums are like that.