For Beth Orton, a pause really delivers

Although six years is a long time between records, Beth Orton had good reasons to take a pause that lengthy after “Comfort of Strangers.”

She wasn’t sure if she had anything left to say musically, she and her record label had parted company and she had an experience that usually changes any woman’s life.

“I did become a mother,” Orton said during a recent phone interview. “I didn’t have a record deal, but I didn’t really want one. ”

“The label wasn’t terribly interested in me, and I wasn’t terribly interested in them. But during that time, I gave myself over to Bert because I didn’t know what to do with me,” she said.

The “Bert” was Bert Jansch, the Scottish-born singer, songwriter and guitarist whose acoustic dexterity influenced players from Neil Young to Jimmy Page.

Jansch and Orton met in 2004 when they did a gig together, and he became a friend and mentor, recruiting her for his 2006 album, “The Black Swan,” and passing along more than guitar lessons.

“I didn’t have one pivotal thing that I got from him, exactly,” Orton said of Jansch, who died late last year at age 67. “It was kind of an experience of constant inspiration, the idea of being more confident to play guitar and also to enjoy my lack of technical ability, and to embrace my individuality.”

She wrapped her arms around music-making again when she moved from London to Norfolk – not far from where she was born – and settled in not only to nurture her daughter, Nancy, but also to nurture material in a small back-garden studio.

“I got to a point where I wanted the visceral immediacy of having the guitar next to my stomach,” she said. “I started to record myself and explore that side of things, which I’d never really done before on my own. I started to dedicate myself.”

Orton’s creative renewal got encouragement from a trio of fortunate encounters: Sam Amidon, an American folk singer who became her husband (and the father of her second child, a son); Anti-, an American indie label with a roster of refugees (Nick Cave, Tom Waits, Calexico); and Tucker Martine, an American engineer and producer with impressive credits, including albums by the Decemberists, My Morning Jacket and R.E.M.

Those encounters led to “Sugaring Season,” an uncommonly rich album that draws dark sweetness from Orton’s British-folk roots and the intuitive chemistry among the musicians she and Martine assembled for the brief sessions.

The chemistry allowed for the unexpected: the radiantly raw “Candles,” for example, ended up on the album from what was intended as a practice run.

“It’s one take, and we’d turned around and Tucker had recorded it,” Orton said. “It was a fantastic moment. Tucker has his ears on all the time.”

Songs like “Call Me the Breeze,” with its kissing-cousin relationship to pastoral country rock, and “Poison Tree,” which nods to Sandy Denny and Fairport Convention, have Orton’s familiar, eyes-closed intensity, but they also show her as confident and at peace as she’s ever been.

“I’m a lot more relaxed about what I’m doing,” Orton said. “This time it flowed, and there was just air to everything. Everyone was in their best place and their best self, and it just happened like that. It was easy.”


•Who: Beth Orton with Sam Amidon

•When: 8 p.m. Tuesday

•Where: Turner Hall Ballroom, 1032 N. 4th St.

•How much: $25 at the Pabst and Riverside Theater box offices, (414) 286-3663 and

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