Kindred spirits: Aimee Mann, Kristin Hersh
Show: With Dawn Landes on Wednesday
at the 9:30 Club. Doors open at 7 p.m.
202-265-0930. www.930.com. $25.
Beth Orton’s vocal delivery is nothing if not cool. Not cool as in hip or trendy, but cool as in calm and unflappable. Her voice is a gorgeous instrument — airy and lilting with a twinge of melancholy. Her singing is consistently understated and patient, but her style doesn’t lend itself to being overly expressive.
Orton’s sixth album, “Sugaring Season,” is her first in six years. And, true to form, the waters are mostly smooth for the journey. There are songs that veer toward the somber (the string-laden “Something More Beautiful”) and the cheerful (the spritely, baroque confection “See Through Blue”), but Orton’s emotions pull back when they approach higher peaks.
Like “Comfort of Strangers” before it, “Sugaring Season” finds Orton going mostly acoustic and leaving behind some of the electronic embellishments she cut her teeth with. Songs such as “State of Grace” are fleshed out by twinkling piano notes and sweet vocal harmonies. And the gentle “Dawn Chorus,” a standout track, achieves its charm by being the album’s most comfortable and relaxed song.
A beautiful voice and sophisticated arrangements make for an enjoyable listen, but time may have dulled some of Orton’s edges. Her poise threatens to give the album the dreaded “mature” label. There are moments when her lyrics’ rawness pokes through — the voice-cracking refrain of “what a lie” on “Magpie” for instance — but “Sugaring Season” is decidedly on an even keel.