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Furrow Records FURR008

Emily Portman’s third album delivers another intense listening experience. The bright innocence of her voice and the intricate, imaginative accompaniment of Lucy Farrell (viola, fiddle) and Rachel Newton (harps, fiddle) lure us to a mysterious land where imagery of the natural world prevails. Bark, bud, fruit, bird, nest, feather, tide. Echoes of ballads and folktales are all around.

Like Hansel and Gretel, we stumble on dark places among the 11 songs. Meanings are elusive, but grief, loss and the trials of motherhood are recurring themes. Borrowed And Blue is her response to The Cruel Mother and deals with post natal depression. In the title track, a baby is taken away from its mother. Brink Of June is more uplifting: inspired by May Song, it’s about the wait for her daughter to be born and contains the line “We two shall part and meet for the first time”. The metamorphic Seed Stitch and Dotterine are also about childbirth - I think. Tide has lyrics by the poet Eleanor Rees. Emily’s own writing has a strong poetic quality. Sometimes the images are piled a bit too high, but there are many fine ones. In Eye Of Tree, for instance: “Now I search for your song in branch-snap and wing-flutter”.

I reviewed Emily’s first album, The Glamoury, in which some of the songs were set in modern-day Newcastle. I liked that. In Coracle, she has gone full pelt for timelessness and nature, and I find it a bit too claustrophobic. Some neon light might have illuminated the dark wood. Not an easy listening album, then, but a very rewarding one and a tribute to her powerful imagination.

Emily, Lucy and Rachel are joined by guest musicians including Toby Kearney (drums, percussion), M G Boulter (guitars) and Sam Sweeney (violin, nyckelharpa, Hardanger fiddle, cello). The title track was recorded in a church with an expanded ensemble of string and reed players.

Tony Hendry

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This album was reviewed in Issue 108 of The Living Tradition magazine.