BEST OF 2012: 7. Beth Orton – Sugaring Season

In a recent interview, Beth Orton explained that she contemplated the idea that her music career “had run its course” when her contract came to an end not long after the release of 2006′s gorgeously understated and bafflingly overlooked ‘Comfort Of Strangers‘. The lack of expectation and the break from the promotional grind, coupled with becoming a parent, has resulted in an album which looks set to be as much a part of autumn as brown leaves and crisp mornings. Bolstered by the freedom and exploring a different view of songwriting born of a curious clarity gained when attending to a small child in the wee hours, Orton delivers her finest album to date.

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During a recent tour of the UK by train, Orton appeared at Bristol’s Thekla venue. It was heartening to see the genuine warmth for this album and, while classics from the early records were received with sizeable applause, the magic of ‘Magpie‘ and the ferocity of ‘Something More Beautiful‘ provoked that tragically infrequent occurence these days: a truly hushed venue. The evening served to underline that ‘Sugaring Season’ is a record which will endure, stripping back the production and revealing the stunning skeletal tunes below.

Whether its the pastoral subtlety of ‘Dawn Chorus‘ or ‘Poison Tree‘ or the stunning atmospherics of ‘Last Trees Of Autumn‘ and album-closer ‘Mystery‘, this is a record to cherish. The last of that list is the sort of track any Nick Drake fan should go bandy-legged and moist-eyed to, while ‘Something More Beautiful’ evokes the lush majesty of some of the highest points on 1999′s ‘Central Reservation‘. And that’s all without the mentioning the rather peculiar sub-two minute waltz ‘See Through Blue‘. It appears to have rubbed some reviewers up the wrong way but consider me smitten. As I’m sure you will be too. Whether this will be the fifth Beth Orton album on the shelf or she is an artist with whom you’ve never previously clicked, ‘Sugaring Season‘ is one of the most perfectly realised releases of 2012.

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