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“Alive, alive, alive, alive/ Alive, alive, alive, alive-o/ Alive-o,” she finishes. And if that sounds too simple, remember it’s shorn of her melody. Remember, too, that after Boston, after Waco (again), after Washington D.C. (why did they change the basketballs team’s name from “Bullets”?), after whatever happened on your personal watch (I lost a good friend, and a friend to everybody), hey, we can be grateful for small favors. Like life.

No electronics on this album (another shearing), but I’ll take Evyind Kang on violin and viola any day, not to mention Marc Ribot and Beth Orton’s other funky friends making, okay, not funk, but chamber-pop marching along sometimes on Brian Blade’s martial-marching beats. Orton’s voice always struck me as Joan Baez with the almost-hurtful purity sanded down just that crucial hair; here, she gets to chase herself up and down, singing Hello, how are you, I am everywhere, I am everything. Childlike wonder stopping short of childish indulgence. A gentle pantheism.

And while I adored her electronics, the organic vibe reflected back and forth between words and tunes seems less smooth, more of a purposeful push. Worthy purpose: “You want to learn the trick to turn/ What’s not so pretty/ Into something more beautiful/ It’s the same place/ That I learned to turn/ What could be sorrow/ Into some kind of mercy.” The thankfulness for life comes at the end of the album. The above comes from roughly the first third. So, the problems of living precede the thankfulness. But, then (again), that’s life.

  • Album: Sugaring Season
  • Artist: Beth Orton
  • Label: ANTI-
  • Songs: (1) Magpie (2) Dawn Chorus (3) Candles (4) Something More Beautiful (5) Call Me The Breeze (6) Poison Tree (7) See Through Blue (8) Last Leaves Of Autumn (9) State Of Grace (10) Mystery
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