In the six years between
Comfort of Strangers
and the new
, Beth Orton had two children, married fellow singer-songwriter Sam Amidon, and thought about making lots of albums.
But she had become disenchanted with the recording process. Although she often worked early in her career with electronic artists such as William Orbit and the Chemical Brothers and her debut album, 1996's stellar Trailer Park, rewardingly merged synthetic textures with acoustic melodies, Orton became more interested in the unvarnished immediacy of a well-crafted song.
"I don't feel like I've turned my back on the more electronic influences," says Orton. "I just felt the thing I'm getting off on the most is the immediacy of floor-to-tape recording and not overthinking it. I don't want to sing to a backing track and I don't want to rethink."
Like Comfort of Strangers, Sugaring Season was recorded quickly, this time in Portland, Ore., with producer Tucker Martine (Laura Veirs, the Decemberists), but it had a long gestation period during which Orton would revisit and rework songs. It's a moody, gently soulful album with much richer sound than the sometimes sketch-like Strangers.
"I didn't really spend six years waiting to do the record. I spent the six years coming and going from the songs. By the time I got to the studio, the songs were so ready that I didn't have to spend time overthinking it," she says. "I really savored the process of writing, and I think some of it's gone deeper because of it. I've had to work like that, too, because I've got two children and you have to work within the spaces."
Chance played a part in the record, too, even while the songs gradually evolved. When she happened across a copy of William Blake's "A Poison Tree" at a friend's house, the captivating poem perfectly fit the melody of a song she was struggling to finish.
"When these things do come together creatively, is it fate, is it serendipity, is it meant to be somehow? Is it witchcraft? I don't know how it all comes together, but when it does, it's amazing," she says.
Her interest in the purity of the songs, and an increased confidence in her guitar playing that resulted from taking lessons from folk icon Bert Jansch, inspired her to choose to tour without a band. Sam Amidon will open (and join her on some songs) when she comes to the Trocadero on Tuesday for a seated show moved from the Keswick. The setlist will include all of the new album as well as selections from throughout her career, including some of her early, more electronic songs.
"I've just been rediscovering 'Galaxy of Emptiness,' " she says. "At first I thought, 'I can't possibly do that with just me and a guitar.' But it's so haunting to sing it solo and savor the words in a different way. I think that's what I enjoy about doing the show solo, just immersing the listener and myself in this experience of the purest nature of the song."