Not many artists are able to explore so many different settings while remaining utterly true to themselves, but the English singer-songwriter Beth Orton has built a career by trusting her instincts and curiosity. Over the years she’s experimented with electronica, the folk-jazz sound pioneered by her early hero Terry Callier, folk-pop, and numerous permutations and mixtures of these approaches. She’s never settled into a single style, and yet her music has always been instantly recognizable. Orton went silent for six years following the release of her largely electronic Kidstick in 2016, but after falling for a dusty, scuffed-up upright piano at a shop in London’s Camden Market, her creativity kicked in, and she began writing songs on a keyboard for the first time.
In 2022 she returned with the ravishing Weather Alive, an album Jon Pareles of the New York Times has called her best “by far.” Orton isn’t afraid to show the strains of time in her voice, allowing its scratchy beauty to shine on a collection of ballads and mid-tempo tunes rife with reflection and recollection. Her songs don’t seek out the profound, but they find profundity in the simplest experiences and elliptical narratives. She made the record with some of London’s most elastic musicians, including drummer Tom Skinner, saxophonist Alabaster DePlume, and bassist Tom Herbert, all of whom have toggled easily between jazz and rock music elsewhere, along with remotely recorded basslines by New York-based polymath Shahzad Ismaily.
While she has previously made more rustic recordings, Weather Alive is her most naturalistic, organic outing. As she told Pareles about making the record in a recent feature story, “With my kids at school I was able to go deep again. What I couldn’t do when the kids were little was really dig into the internal workings, like I like to. So I was left again with this sort of meditative quality, or maybe for the first time seeing my own thought patterns. Because I was writing for no one.”