That’s how music writers, always looking for the newest and hippest sub-genre of music, sometimes describe the folk-tinged and electronica-fueled music of British singer-songwriter Beth Orton.

Like most musicians, Orton doesn’t like labels. But she understands where this one comes from.

“It’s a little annoying,” said Orton, 43. “But I’ve always had a hang-up about not wanting to be a straightforward folk artist. I didn’t want to be that, and I’ve always liked music in the clubs. So I guess it makes sense.”

Orton will bring her unique sound to the Asylum in Portland on Sunday. The Murphy Beds will open.

While not exactly a chart-topper, Orton has had critical raves for her work for more than 15 years. She is played on the radio a lot, locally on eclectic FM station WCLZ, and she’s frequently profiled by music critics in The New York Times, Rolling Stone or on National Public Radio.


Her latest album, “Sugaring Season,” came out in late 2012 and sounds more folk than folktronica. The focus on most tracks is Orton’s voice, which can range from delicate and high-pitched on “Poison Tree” to deep and soulful on “Dawn Chorus.” Most of the songs on the album are guitar-based, but they have layers of other sounds that make them feel more textured than most folk.

Though she writes most of her songs, Orton borrows from British poet William Blake’s “A Poison Tree” for her song “Poison Tree.” The opening lines are almost exact:

“I was angry with my friend/ I told my wrath, my wrath did end/ I was angry with my foe/ I told him not, my wrath did grow.”

Growing up in London, Orton says her two older brothers were a big influence on her. One was into British punk and the other was into club music and early hip-hop. So as a teenager she frequented clubs where a lot of music was made with turntables and electronic gadgets. It was when she was 19 that someone first put the idea of making music into her head.

“I had no idea I could be a singer. But I met this producer in a club who fancied me, thought I was cute,” said Orton, speaking from Los Angeles. “But once I started writing songs I realized this is what I wanted to do.”

Orton also credits her mother as a major influence, on her perspective on life and on her songwriting. Her mother was a journalist and activist who fought for affordable child care in England.


“She was a lover of words, definitely, so I think that was an influence,” said Orton. “Plus she had an effect on my sensitivity. She was always saying, ‘Well, you don’t know what other people are going through.’ She always wanted us to consider the other side.”

Orton’s first full-length album was “Trailer Park” in 1996, which established her and got her onto the British record charts. She followed “Trailer Park” by touring with Lilith Fair, the traveling show of female singer-songwriters. In 1999 she hit the British charts again with the album “Central Reservation,” including a bouncy title track with an electronic, danceable beat and a little vocal echo.

“Sugaring Season” is her fifth album since 1996.

“Albums take time, the music comes when it comes,” Orton said.

As Orton talked from a park in Los Angeles, she stopped to check on her 2-year-old son, who had just fallen off a scooter. She also has a 7-year-old daughter. Besides balancing her music with her children, Orton also has to deal with Crohn’s disease, a painful intestinal disorder.

“It certainly has had a detrimental effect on me, but it’s also a learning experience. Sometime you can turn an illness into a teacher,” said Orton. “It changed me. It’s made me look after myself better, which is a good thing.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:


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