EMILY PORTMAN – Coracle (Furrow Records FURR008)

CoracleI’ve always been a fan of Emily Portman’s songwriting; less so in the past of her performances. Hearing her recently with the reunited Devil’s Interval, however, I was struck by the impact that years of writing, playing and singing, leadership of her trio (Lucy Farrell and Rachel Newton, who are the bedrock of this album), not to mention motherhood have had on her.

I still think that Emily is at her best when she is working from traditional themes so my favourite tracks reflect that. ‘Brink Of June’ is a May song and only the title might stop you from researching the traditional source. ‘Borrowed And Blue’ holds up a mirror to ‘The Cruel Mother’ with plays on the words “buried” and “bridal/bridle”. Like many other songs in this set it seems preoccupied with the process of motherhood, with an almost Catholic sense of guilt. I’m certain that Emily is happy with her role but you can read a lot into her words.

Call me weird but ‘Seed Stitch’ reads like an allegory for the loss of virginity, something that is irreplaceable, while ‘Dotterine’, derived from an Estonian fairy-tale, mythologizes the act of giving birth while omitting the unhappy ending of the source story. As ever, many of Emily’s songs seem to come from a mysterious other world. There is a simple explanation behind ‘Darkening Bell’ for example but don’t let that put you off and ‘Nightjar’ embodies many ideas although we’re also talking about motherhood again.

Coracle isn’t exactly an easy album but it is a very powerful one and it will only serve to reinforce Emily’s reputation as one of the country’s best young songwriters.

Dai Jeffries

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Artist’s website: www.emilyportman.co.uk