Emily Portman,
The Glamoury
(Zoom, 2010)

It's a shame how much brilliant music never makes it over the pond. I stumbled upon The Glamoury while looking for another British folk CD on Amazon UK. After listening to a few clips, I ended up getting it instead of the CD I was originally interested in. Emily Portman's clear, expressive voice and fairy-tale subject matter make for a powerful CD that is capable of sending shivers up my spine. This is folk music at its most magical -- and perilous.

The 12 tracks are Portman's interpretations of a wide range of mythic material, including fairy tales, traditional folk songs, ballads and her own dreams. The melodies are simple and sparsely accompanied by viola, guitar, harp and concertina, allowing Portman's crystalline alto take center stage, sometimes unadorned, sometimes layered with other voices into rounds and harmonies. A few songs in, it's already clear that she's a consummate storyteller with an exceptional sense of timing and mood.

And that's to say nothing of the eerie, understated power of the songs. "Stick Stock" is probably the most immediately recognizable song on the CD. It's a Tim Burton-esque, bone-chilling interpretation of the Grimm (and grim) tale "The Juniper Tree," in which a child is murdered by her stepmother and fed to her father. I challenge you to listen to it and not get goose bumps. Other highlights include "Two Sisters," based on an old ballad in which one sister drowns the other over a faithless lover, "Tongue-Tied," which takes the perspective of the silenced princess in "The Wild Swans," and the melancholy "Grey Stone," based on selkie legends. The one audibly produced track is "Pretty Skin," which should stick out like a sore thumb, but fits its creepy story (a witch whose bones continue to whisper after she has been thrown into the fire) and the slightly gothic tendencies of the recording.

Not all songs are equally compelling, but as a whole, The Glamoury is a heady, strange and rich brew. It doesn't sound like anything else out there, though fans of artists as disparate as Loreena McKennitt, Joanna Newsom and the Mediaeval Baebes might find something to appreciate. It might just be my favorite CD this year.

music review by
Jennifer Mo

16 March 2013

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