When Beth Orton released her last album in 2006, Laura Marling was just 16 years old. Since that time, the indie-folk darling Marling grew up and released three albums. Orton, at 41 old enough to be Marling’s mum, has grown up as well: In the last six years the British warbler as had two children, contemplated chucking the music-career thing, engaged in therapy, was released from her record label, lived as a single mother in a former cow barn, decided not to write a novel and took guitar lessons from her hero Bert Jansch, the Scottish folkie.
Jansch is recently dead. Marling is now a fair-haired star. And Orton is making music once again.
“I’m hanging on like the last leaves of autumn, but I’m coming through like the first shoots of spring,” she sings on Last Leaves of Autumn, a spare piano ballad in the style of the solemnest possible Carole King. “I’m standing outside of space and time, and I’m healing – believing.”
The song is part of Sugaring Season, an unerring album about bone-resting, rising sap, first-time feelings and awakenings from the “sleeping season.” There’s a fragility to her voice, and the material is gently presented. But it is fierce and bright in its own way.
Some of you will be closing up cottages soon (if not already); this is the soundtrack to an October weekend of sweaters, cider and last suns for a while.
Orton, 2012 version, isn’t doing much with the electronica tweaks to her folk music any more. Magpie has an ornate sort of rusticity, with Brian Blades settling into a limber groove and a light acoustic sparkle happening from a guitar strung Nashville-style. The breezier Dawn Chorus uses an harmonium to warm, snug effect.
The phrasing of Something More Beautiful in the verses reminds me of Joe Henry and his kind of poetic country soul. “You want to learn the trick to turn what’s not so pretty into something more beautiful,” sings Orton, her voice high and not too shaky.
Call Me The Breeze has a sweet shuffle to it, with a Wurlitzer for colour. Sam Amidon adds a lovely bit of harmony vocals on Poison Tree, a softly compelling arrangement of a poem by William Blake.
The albums finishes with Mystery, with Orton as the tender siren: “Alive, alive, alive, alive/alive, alive, alive-o.” A fiddle moves slowly over a faint acoustic picking, and the song closes on that gentle high. The album ends, until you press repeat.
It starts again.
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DANCE: >album title goes here<
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- Three and a half stars
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