mon 22/12/2014

Beth Orton, Oran Mor, Glasgow | New music reviews, news & interviews

Beth Orton, Oran Mor, Glasgow

Songwriter's return is the perfect mood music for a frozen night

A family affair: Beth Orton brings domestic bliss on the road

With a hollered “hello Glasgow” and immediate launch into “Magpie”, the emotionally ragged song that opens this year’s Sugaring Season, it was as if Beth Orton had never been away. On this last date of her UK tour, the night before her 42nd birthday, Orton’s notoriously husky singing voice was unsurprisingly even throatier, more tremulous than usual. It had the effect of lending even more intimacy to cuts from a new album that, after a six-year gap and particularly tumultuous personal circumstances, emerged bathed in the quiet glow of domestic bliss.

After setting the scene with only an acoustic guitar for company the singer was joined by her husband, the American folk musician Sam Amidon, and the warmth and simplicity of their dueling guitars created the perfect mood music for a frozen December night. Reinterpreting Sugaring Season’s gorgeous orchestration for acoustic guitar - with Amidon sometimes stepping in with violin and subtle harmonies - might easily have been a bit of a gamble; but with the help of one of Glasgow’s prettier venues for a setting and an unusually attentive crowd it was one that paid off. When the singer joked about putting in a couple of oldies so that she could “get away with playing newer stuff”, it didn’t feel like an indulgence.

As next chapters go this is one of the lovelier ones

It helps, of course, that these new songs are among some of the strongest Orton has ever written. The ghostly “Candles” and “Something More Beautiful” - the album’s hazy yet dramatic piano ballad - were perfectly capable of holding their own without instrumental affectations. With no piano in sight the latter underwent the biggest reinvention, but the vocal ferociousness that was put into lines like “You feel too much to ever let it show” made it just as evocative.

As she sipped a cup of tea between songs, Orton joked that what she was doing was hardly rock 'n' roll. While that may be true, in her 20-something "folktronica" days it would have been difficult to imagine Orton penning the glorious whimsy of “Call Me the Breeze” or putting the words of William Blake to such evocative use as on “Poison Tree”. We all of us grow up or, to borrow a lyric, “lose our innocence to find it all over”. As next chapters go this is one of the lovelier ones and its influences were felt in a contemporary rendition of Central Reservation’s “Stolen Car”. It’s a song that has always looked forward, to a certain extent; but as its “old enough not to know better” recriminations gave way to a protracted “I know better by now, I must be starting to” refrain the change was obvious.

By the time Orton emerged, solo, for an encore composed solely from older material her voice was beginning to crack. However a room full of people singing quietly, reverently, the words to “Central Reservation” and “Feel To Believe” made for one of the evening’s more magical moments. As if to prove that her absence hadn’t seen a distancing of herself from her roots “I Wish I Never Saw The Sunshine” - the Ronettes cover that was her first single back in 1996 - closed a thoroughly lovely evening.

A room full of people singing quietly, reverently, made for one of the evening’s more magical moments

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