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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A grower - and still moving away from electronica, 20 Dec 2012
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This review is from: Sugaring Season [Deluxe Edition] (MP3 Download)
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.
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