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Furrow Records  FURR006

There are some records you can listen to while driving or whatever. Others demand that you give them your full attention, and this is one of them. Having found that Ms Portman’s lyrics ruined my concentration on the road, I poured a small and spirituous libation (once I got home) and sat down to pay proper attention. I thoroughly recommend that you do the same.

Eight of the 13 tracks come from Emily’s rich imagination, which is sometimes quirky, sometimes dark, often unexpected, but always rich and eloquently worded. These songs draw you effortlessly into an often mythological world as seen by its protagonists, be they ancient Greeks, an 18th century sea captain or a Norse sea goddess. Not many songwriters have the ability to do this as well as Emily, and it means that several of these songs will stand comparison with some of the best of the traditional material that is obviously such an important reference point for her.

Many of the songs here, whether from Emily’s pen or from the tradition, are reflective in their mood, and this suits her very distinctive voice and singing style admirably. The exceptions would be the fragments of lullabies that are dotted through the CD, and these have been recorded to sound as if they’re straight off an old 78 record or wax cylinder. I can see the point, but I’m not entirely sure it works. What does work well for me is the rich variety of a talented group of musicians she’s drawn together for this project to add harp, cello, guitar (and others) to her own banjo playing. A few tracks feature other singers alongside Emily, and this adds counterpoint and variety to the overall impact of the album, as well as displaying her well proven abilities as a duettist to advantage.

The impression you come away with is that you’ve been given a lot of food for thought, and maybe an opportunity to see some aspects of life from a different perspective. This CD shows a very creative and productive interaction between the tradition and newer influences. I loved it.

John Waltham

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This album was reviewed in Issue 92 of The Living Tradition magazine.