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Brilliant new CDs from Ian King and Emily Portman

Mike Harding | 18:35 UK time, Wednesday, 27 January 2010

I've been listening to two new CDs quite a lot over the last week: 'Panic Grass and Fever Few' by Ian King and 'The Glamoury' by Emily Portman.

In a way you couldn't imagine two more different albums.

Ian King has taken a set of mostly classic traditional or broadside songs such as 'Death And The Lady', 'Flash Company' (The Yellow Handkerchief), 'The Isle of France' and 'Four Loom Weaver' amongst them, and has threaded together sympathetic beds of percussion and brass, strings, banjo, mandolin, backing vocals and guitar that complement the songs without swamping them.

King leaves more than enough space for the words and has mixed the vocals far enough forward for the narrative to get through. Two of the songs are by King himself and they sit up there well with the traditional material. It's an album that has grown on me the more I play it.

Emily Portman's album is a collection of her own songs all based on traditional stories or myths and moulded into something very rare and exciting by Emily's writing and by her voice and musicianship.

'Sirens' for example is based on the classical myths of sirens luring sailors onto the rocks but is set in the streets of modern day Newcastle where the sirens have "wheels instead of wings."  'Tongue Tied' tells the story of the girl who must remain silent and shed no tears for seven years in order to free her brothers who have been turned into birds while 'Fine Silica' is a re-working of the Silkie legend.

Glamoury is a form of magical enchantment and those that are thus afflicted for good or evil can see through into the other world (sometimes called Fairyland). But please don't think there is anything remotely twee about this CD, there are no little people here flitting round the flowers on diaphanous wings, this is the raw stuff of the great ballads ­ the tunes are as rooted in the tradition as a hawthorn in an old hedge bank and the writing is masterly.

Two great albums and as different as you could imagine ­ - good stuff.

And they cheered me up as I struggled with a dose of military strength man-flu.

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