Beth Orton’s fifth full album “Sugaring Season” refers to a time of year over in Vermont, USA when the cane is ready to go. In many ways, Beth Orton’s music style has been ready to go for a while but her acoustic vines have seen her always keep slightly below the radar, especially after the underrated last album.
Beth’s short album kicks off with the bluesy rock of “Magpie” which is hook fuelled with its guitars and short violin sprinkles. It’s almost like barn rock! It feels very familiar to previous Orton sounds but it does feel like there’s a different energy. There’s more directness. “Dawn Chorus” is a fast 3/4 track that sways through prettily and country tinged while Beth speeds through lots of lyrics. Everything feels smooth to the touch. “Candles” does allow for space in the audio but that’s for Beth to let go a bit vocally as she gets more animated and the strings lack any reverb unlike the rest of the instruments and that gives the track more urgency. “Something More Beautiful” follows the same pattern with a lovely country ballad.
“Call Me the Breeze” has a real gallop to it. The guitar strumming and the galloping percussion over the country/Hawaiian slower vocal delivery is a great juxtaposition and it really makes the track stand out as something I’d imagine Marc Bolan doing if he ever would have ventured into country music. “Poison Tree” is a duet but the song really failed to connect with me. It’s a nice enough acoustic guitar led track but it sounds like a monotone chord for the majority of the track and there’s little change in the four minutes. “See Through Blue” is great fun though. It’s got that honky-tonk piano and chintzy style to it that makes me think of old sepia silent comedy movies being played. It’s cute, playful and charming and a relatively different style to much of Beth’s catalogue. “Last Leaves of Winter” is a piano led ballad that slowly builds with strings in the latter half to make for a more heartfelt track before “State of Grace” picks up the ante with a more bouncy track. Again there’s no particular riff, it’s all about the jamming feeling. It’s quite something if you can build tracks that seem to want to avoid a direct melodic hook that you still enjoy. The closer is “Mystery” which reminds me of Sarah McLachlan. Very soft acoustic guitar, a faint background organ and almost panpipe like playing of a fiddle. It’s a delicate and touching end to what is a fairly cold album.
“Sugaring Season” is strange. Maybe I didn’t connect with it because it veers too much down the barn dance without the dance side for me. It lacks the larger scope of some of her earlier albums and isn’t as concise and compounding as Comfort of Strangers. There’s some lovely moments here, but I had to go fishing for them. A grower perhaps? We’ll see.