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4.7 out of 5 stars
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon October 3, 2012
What is known as the Sugaring Season runs in Vermont from around March to mid-April. It is when producers all around the state collect maple sap and boil it down to the sweet sticky syrup. It is the same maple trees that lead to that stunning sweep of colour in the vibrant fall foliage. Beth Orton's new album seems to combines both events. It is very much a hymn to Autumnal and pastoral moods but combined with a lovely bruised fragility which makes this album such a real treat.

Gone is all the shimmering electronica and digital files of the dallainces with Andy Weatherall or the Chemical Brothers, indeed the template is much more in tune with her frequent collaborations with Ryan Adams. Following a lengthy hiatus to bring up her daughter this is her first album in six years that firmly sticks to the acoustic knitting and is all the better for it. In that time she built up a considerable backlog of songs and in the selections here has largely chosen wisely. Opener "Magpie" has a bluesy tint to the essential folk based melancholy. It builds to a big finish as Orton's vocals stretch and the intensity ratchets up. More gentle are the following tracks, the lifting pop of "Dawn chorus" and the almost Nick Drake sounding guitar backdrop to "Candles" where Orton's haunting vocals are at their very best. The slow piano ballad laden with violins "Something more beautiful" is an undoubted highlight and will replay repeated listens. One sour note comes in the form of the Weimar cabaret of "See Through Blue" where she tries to adopt a Dietrich style loftiness but it all feels rather contrived and breaks the flow of the album. Still it comes in under two minutes and is followed by "Last leaves of Autumn" which is one of the best things Beth Orton has ever done. This reviewers favourite however is the lovely closing track "Mystery" a wonderful haunting ballad that echoes the song writing skills of the great Sandy Denny. Orton's chalky voice has never been better employed and as it gently fades out you touch the repeat button and listen in rapture once more. For those wanting more you will wish to note that the deluxe edition also contains three extra tracks namely covers of "That Summer Feeling" by Jonathan Richman, a nice take on the Carole King standard "I Wasn't Born To Follow" made famous by the Byrds and a haunting version of Neil Young's "Goin Back" from the "Comes a time" album.

Orton has admitted in interviews that it was listening to Joni Mitchell's seminal album "Blue" that provided her musical coming of age. It has served her well since "Sugaring Season" has echoes of Mitchell, Sandy Denny, Cat Power and a host of others. There is nothing revolutionary or radical about this album but it makes up for this with moving honesty and fine melodies. More than that after six long years it signals a return to form by an artist who has built up an admirable and deserved reputation as a top notch songwriter with an album which will be ranked amongst her best. Its good to have her back.
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on October 2, 2012
A lot has changed since Beth Orton's last album six years ago: she's now a wife and a mother. For all that may have changed in her life, her music is as good as it has ever been on SUGARING SEASON. Orton has all but dropped the electronic influences of her past in favor for a more mystical, roots-based brand of trippy instrumentation. The production here works wonderfully, sometimes feeling loose and relaxed, at others tense and slightly paranoid; each song is able to create a nice landscape for Orton to wander in. Songs range from the childlike "See Through Blue," the melancholy and jazzy "Something More Beautiful," the skittering and beautiful "Dawn Chorus," and the elegaic closing track "State of Grace." What shines here though, is Orton's voice. Simultaneously captivating, soulful, and trancelike, her vocals fill up every song to the brim.

The closest point of comparison I can think of is Cat Power (circa her release of THE GREATEST). The weakest point of this album is that it starts off so strongly - the second half of the album doesn't quite live up to the first; it's not as adventurous or experimental, suggesting that Orton is best when she's pushing herself creatively. Essential tracks to sample/download: "Magpie," "Dawn Chorus," and "Candles." This is a great autumn/winter record - one that you can lose yourself in for a while.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon October 13, 2012
I love Beth Orton, yes, I love her music. I own her previous five albums, shoot I even bought Pass In Time the remix album, and enjoyed that. Six years without a new album by Beth Orton is a long time. Oh, I'm so sad to say I don't love Sugaring Season. Overall it is a good album; there are moments of brilliance, Magpie, Dawn Chorus, Candles, and Poison Tree. There are two tracks that sound like fingers on a chalkboard to me, Something More Beautiful and See Through Blue. The remaining four tracks are good.

The four tracks I loved are more like classic Beth Orton, her beautiful mid range voice with just the right amount of music. By the time the album gets to See Through Blue, Orton is channeling Edith Piaf and happy go lucky turn of the century music. Something More Beautiful has two crescendos of orchestral music that has an irritating dissonance with her voice. It should sound like passion rising, instead it is painful.

The recording is nice, clear with excellent range. Unfortunately some of the songs just added too much orchestra or needless instruments. I love Beth Orton's voice and I think she sounds best with an acoustic guitar or piano. All the other production is just extra fill that I don't think she needs. The album does close with a beautiful sparse song, Mystery.

Four brilliant tracks, four good ones, and two stinkers make for a mediocre album, even if I love Beth Orton. Six years to wait for this was too long.
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on October 8, 2012
The songs on this album are different from most of her earlier work, with alternate tunings and different vocal registers on some of the songs. And there's no electronica here. You won't get as many catchy, "pop" songs, but you will get more mature songs. This is as good as anything else she's done, but in a different way.
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on December 11, 2012
A far cry from her Central Reservation CD, i know the hard core fans still love it and excuse me for not loving it but the songs are not as catchy or arranged as well as "Central.". Her voice is still PERFECT and the writing is still very , very professional and the recording production very top notch but I am the type to like the catchy songs. She's a wonderful songwriter and has the voice of an angel. Good CD ,hope it grows on me as I keep listening.
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on October 21, 2012
While a little more mellow than recent efforts, she still has that voice - an instrument from the heavens. After a few more listens I may even want to rate this a five star effort, but if you're even just a little bit into her, do not hesitate to get this. I love Beth Orton.
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on November 26, 2012
I feel this album is a stronger outing then Ms. Orton's previous CD, Comfort of Strangers. While the electronica of her earliest work is missing, it has been replaced by the swirl of strings bowed and plucked. Her voice is in fine form, the vague, spacey lyrics hint at longing, love, infidelity, change. If you're a fan you won't be disappointed, lush, sweet, sad, Beth has returned.
Unfortunately there are two versions of the album, the Deluxe has 3 more songs including a cover of Neil Youngs, "Goin' Back" which could have been written by Beth. The price difference between the various versions on amazon was dramatic, if you can, buy the deluxe. One wonders what these record companies are thinking, calling illegal down-loaders thieves.
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on October 29, 2012
This CD is classy, smooth and melodic.
Beth Orton's voice has subtly matured and developed richness in tone and depth from her Trailer Park and Central Reservation days. This release is worth the wait.

Beth had been kicking these songs around for some time, as I'd seen her perform some of these live in an acoustic stripped-down fashion at the Melbourne Athenaeum on the 20th January, '12.
I'd read in InPress that Beth Orton was playing at the Athenaeum that night. She was back touring some 6 years after her last album.
Thought, why not, booked a ticket that afternoon, headed into town from work. Walking to train station, I got the sad news my niece had just died of cancer.
Feeling a bit sombre, I was pleasantly surprised with this concert, done in an unplugged style with piano and guitar accompaniment. The lilt and the melodies just lifted my mood.
The content was full of new songs, I thought that some were better and stronger than anything she'd done prior.

I guess the gestation period of musical product is subject to the marketing whims of recording companies.
All the tracks are melodic and tuneful, simple arrangements, piano and guitar-based, building depth with subtle strings, woven into the lilt and rise of Beth's voice.
Where does this music fit in genre ? Call it indie alt-folk if you like. Just slap it on the CD platter when you want to de-stress and mellow-out your mood.
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on June 11, 2015
I do love it, a n d even so much more than "Central."
Really. I play it/ cd in the car a n d when my sister
Comes for lunch I Must have it on the phonograph for the coffee. Dw. loves his sis.
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on November 7, 2012
I was so happy to see Beth Orton come out with a new album. I was beginning to wonder if she dropped out of the scene. 6 years has gone by-and I still remember buying her last album the day it came out. I wasn't a fan of it and felt with that voice, she fell flat on that album. I bought this album on vinyl and was very surprised how much she didn't disappoint. Her voice is still as heavenly as it once was. There are songs that stand above the rest and then there are a couple that seem to dwindle on a little to long and get lost in it all. I will admit I do like the album and love the cover. I missed her. She reminds me of my days with red hair and having nothing but time on my hands. I feel she is an artist that has gone unlooked and hopefully people will catch on to her.
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