Beth Orton has led a singular career. An artist who has skirted on the fringes of the mainstream – let’s not forget how big 1996’s ‘Trailer Park’ and 1999’s ‘Central Reservation’ truly were – she’s also been unafraid to take life at her own pace. ‘Weather Alive’ is the songwriter’s first LP in six years, only her second since 2012, and it’s the work of a glorious talent allowed to move unfettered, unimpeded by obstruction or obstacle; refulgent, beatific, and inspired, it’s a record that ranks among her best, both in intent and execution.
Self-produced, ‘Weather Alive’ is a gorgeous song cycle, a record that feels thoroughly confident in its own skin. Opening with the title track, there’s the sense of a spirit feeling its way through the arrangement, gradually asserting itself. Then comes the heavenly ‘Friday Night’, all opulent sound and Beth Orton’s instinctive, soulful, lived-in vocal. In turn ‘Fractals’ feels more pensive, yet nonetheless ornate, before the songwriter allows her excellent group of musicians to stretch their legs a little on the jazz-tinged ‘Haunted Satellite’, a performance that recalls those mid 70s Joni Mitchell LPs.
‘Forever Young’ allows the barriers of verse and chorus to deserve, a free-flowing exhibition of poise and atmosphere. ‘Lonely’ is more structured, its ebb and flow held together by that bruisingly pretty piano line, the breathy saxophone supplying the perfect counterpoint. ‘Arms Around A Memory’ is rooted in the itchy percussive appeal, recalling Tom Waits with its streak of inventiveness. Closing with ‘Unwritten’, the album’s tightly wound structure practically begs to be replayed – succinct yet endlessly suggestive, its evocative soundscapes seem to linger on the verge of definition, shape-shifting melodies that rise like wisps of smoke before suddenly disappearing, only to dissipate into the sub-conscious mind. Beautifully accomplished, ‘Weather Alive’ stands as an imposing career-high by a fine, fine songwriter.
Words: Robin Murray