Over the last few months, I’ve found myself listening over and over to a CD I came across by chance last year, Country Girl Like Me, by a little-known singer named Emily Portman from Kentucky. This is a real hidden gem which deserves a wider audience.
Emily has a very clear, sweet voice with a wistful feel at times, and the songs she has picked to record are solidly country. She is currently touring as part of the Conway Twitty tribute musical, playing Loretta Lynn, who she cites as her biggest influence. She has also previously worked as a Lynn tribute act; a number of her Lynn covers can be viewed on youtube, and she does sound very convincing on these. However, I am pleased to say that she has definitely found her own voice on this album, and doesn’t sound as though she is impersonating anyone.
In an interview from 2003 linked on her website, Emily says songs have to touch her personally for her to want to sing them, and that clearly emerges in her selection of material here. The principal songwriter here is Rand Bishop, best known as writer of Toby Keith’s hit single ‘My List’, who was impressed by her talent. Several of the songs are inspired by the experience of motherhood: Emily’s own song ‘John Morgan’ is a delightful tribute to her baby son, born in March 2006. As she says, “John Morgan taught me how to love”, and ends with the child gurgling “I love my mommy”. This may not be to all tastes, but I found it rather touching. Bishop’s ‘Whatever Makes You Strong’ is like a slightly less sweet take on the theme underlying Lee Ann Womack’s big hit ‘I Hope You Dance’, and one aimed particularly at hopes for a little boy. ‘Big Life’ also measures motherhood and family life against the protagonist’s youthful ambitions and hopes of making it big, no longer regretted as a missed opportunity. ‘In My Time’ also has an autobiographical feel, but is one of the lesser tracks.
There are a couple of cheerful up-tempo numbers on the ever-popular “I’m country” theme. The title track tells her love interest how much more suited the protagonist is to him than her city rival and has some actual substance. ‘I’m Doin’ Alright’ is a somewhat less original take on the same theme, but still highly listenable.
My personal favorite track is ‘One Of Us Is Lying’, which is a truly great song (written by Richard Leigh and Bobby Fischer) about a woman who has fallen out of love with her unwitting husband, but is unable to tell him so (the chorus runs “One of us is lying, one of us is true, one of us is lying and I know that it’s not you”). I also like the sweet love song, ‘I Can’t Remember,’ and the attempt to get a guy interested in ‘Ask Me To Dance’. The only song I didn’t like much was the closer, ‘Walk Away Clean’, where the tune was less melodic and a bit poppier, and the lyric sounded a bit muddled.
Emily has donated her own songwriting royalties from the record (for co-writing the tracks ‘In My Time’ and ‘John Morgan’), and a proportion of overall sales, to the Wounded Warrior Project, a charity helping severely injured members of the US armed forces.
The CD (released last November on indie label Aaron Records) can be purchased at http://www.cdbaby.com, and all the tracks can be heard and downloaded here. In my opinion, it is well worth checking out if you like traditionally oriented female singers.