My deep love for British folk music stems back to my first Young Tradition albums, which landed in the USA and immediately made waves in the folk community here. Although there will always be musical mingling along borders, I still find that Britfolk is distinctive from Celtic music. I will leave it to those who can articulate it better to write what those differences are, (comments welcome!) but for me the melodies, harmonic structures and lyrics touch me deeply and are very much their own.
Emily Portman is definitely spinning her songs from the web of British folk music (and a sprinkling of other folklore). What is lovely is that these songs feel if they have been around for centuries, and even though the poetic lyrics may be postmodern in sentiment, they still stem from the magic and mayhem that pervades myths and folktales. This is very well crafted, creative songwriting.
The Emily Portman Trio performed for a daycase at WOMEX, and I was not at first drawn into the sound. But I was glad that I stayed and shot, because as I did, I started to appreciate the music far more. Portman has a rather soft, head voice, but it is deadly accurate, and the two other women who make up the trio (Lucy Farrell on on viola and Rachel Newton on harp) supply imaginative, sure footed harmonies. Between the three they create a hypnotic sound that may start with a drone or a simple repeated figure, which gets more layered and richer as the song proceeds. Stay with this stuff, it will entrance you in the best sense of the word.
"Sunken Bells" was inspired by mermaid tales. I was first struck by the musical elements of the song but the lyrics are something to be savored, perhaps on a second or third listening.
For another song by the trio, "Green Hollin" visit http://inter-muse.com/emily-portman-trio-at-womex/