BETH ORTON with SAM AMIDON at the Virgin Mobile Mod Club (722 College), Sunday (September 30), 7 pm. $25. RT, SS, TW. See listing.
The title of Beth Orton's sixth album, Sugaring Season (Anti-), is a nod to the natural and seasonal themes in its songs, and a metaphor for the process of music-making. It was six years in the making.
Since 2006's Comfort Of Strangers, the singer/songwriter who made a name for herself with "folktronica" in the late 90s and early 00s left EMI, collaborated with the late Bert Jansch, had a child, met Vermont-born folksinger Sam Amidon, now her husband, and had another child.
Over the phone from New York, the London-based songwriter is frank about the uncertainty she faced during those years. "I didn't have a record deal," she says, "and I wasn't terribly confident about what I was doing - not in terms of writing, but in terms of putting stuff out."
That changed a couple of years ago when bursts of focused writing generated enough songs Orton believed in. She wrote them solo and stripped-down, which is how she's touring them, with some backup from Amidon. For the album, though, she went for grander, soul-based arrangements inspired by Roberta Flack's 1969 debut album, First Take.
"I thought, ‘Wouldn't it be amazing to use that as a blueprint for how a record would sound?'" she recalls.
Working over Skype with Portland producer Tucker Martine, the two assembled a band composed of Orton's long-time collaborators - bassist Sebastian Steinberg, pianist Rob Burger, guitarist Ted Barnes - and new collaborators Marc Ribot on guitar and Brian Blade on drums. They spent three days recording almost entirely live off the floor.
"It was all very spontaneous," says Orton. "They didn't have to learn anything; they just played. They're great improvisers, and for a song like Candles it was literally the first time they'd heard it, let alone played it."
The recording might've happened quickly, but Orton says parenting has made her songwriting process slower and more refined.
"I was constantly coming back to [songs] with a new brain, almost like a new person. It meant that I really saw a thought through and didn't stop until I'd completed it. I feel very complete with this record. And I don't have any regrets - not yet anyway."