Beth Orton came onto the scene in the late ’90s with a then-innovative sound that incorporated electronic sounds into colk, best heard on tracks like the haunting “She Cries Your Name.” Since then, she’s released a number of albums that rely less on electronic sounds and more on her voice, a stunning instrument that sounds almost medieval in its timbre, recalling Celtic folk without really being tied to any particular era or place. A song like “Magpie” sounds removed from time, like folk outsider Vashti Bunyan or some lost canticle, but its lyrical content seems to speak more of modern concerns, as Orton seems to sing of a struggling relationship in non-specifics that convey more of a feeling of being unsettled than anything. For the most part, though, Orton sounds comfortable in her own skin on Sugaring Season
, tackling a number of moods and styles subtly, as one track flows into another naturally but covers a remarkable amount of ground in the process. The relatively soft-spirited “Dawn Chorus” could sound featherweight, if not for its placement after the bleak “Magpie.” “Something More Beautiful” features Orton playing the vulnerable chanteuse over pounding drums and a beautiful jazzy composition co-written by M. Ward, turning in one of her most beguiling songs yet. The jaunty “Call Me the Breeze,” co-written by Tom Rowlands, is as easy and warm as its title would suggest, taking her into country territory and pointing to one of the clearest points of reference for this album — Dusty in Memphis
. While Sugaring Season
mostly stays within the confines of sweet acoustic rock, Orton’s world-weary voice ensures even her most sugary songs carry the weight of their words.