Since releasing her fourth album, 2006's Comfort of Strangers
(Astralwerks), British folk-pop singer Beth Orton
has devoted a big chunk of her time to motherhood—she now has two children, a five-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son, and she's moved away from London to rural Norfolk, where she grew up. She wrote the songs on the new Sugaring Season
(Anti-), between gardening and spending hours with her kids, and they're suffused with bucolic beauty and leisurely contemplation; she wonders at one of her children on the lullaby-like waltz "See Through Blue" and describes waking up to a country breeze on "Dawn Chorus." She made the record in Portland, Oregon, with producer Tucker Martine, who signed on to Orton's project to create a sound that was somewhere between Pentangle and Roberta Flack. The stellar band features drummer Brian Blade, keyboardist Rob Burger, and bassist Sebastian Steinberg, as well as a crew of guests that includes violist Eyvind Kang (whose ad-libs on the album opener, "Magpie
," inject a bittersweet melancholy) and Orton's husband, Sam Amidon
(who shadows her voice with exquisite harmony singing on "Poison Tree"). The electronics in Orton's early work are entirely absent here, but she and the band nonetheless achieve a thoroughly contemporary fusion of the two influences they hoped to combine—and her soulful, rhythmically varied phrasing casts the elegant folk-rock arrangements in a vibrant glow. For this tour Orton is playing solo, though I'd expect Amidon, who opens, to help out on a few songs. —Peter Margasak Sam Amidon opens.