Emma Forman - Chocolate + Red Wine

Owain Paciuszko 29/07/2008

Rating: 4/5

Emma Forman is a singer-songwriter from Scotland, I can't remember how I stumbled upon her music, but I know it was back in 2003 and those songs; 'Times Of Trouble', 'Too Late' and 'Grace Under Fire' have always been on rotation since. I was drawn to the absolute simplicity of them, they were well-written, beautifully sung, confidently played, heartfelt and intelligent songs, it all seemed so obvious - why do so many other singer-songwriters fail in this startling and deceptively 'basic' task of just making good music?

Her album 'Chocolate + Red Wine' is much the same, just Emma and her guitar. Emma had a musical upbringing (not like 'Oliver!'), she says "I was brought up in quite a musical family. My father played the trumpet and was often singing pop, rock, and country songs, and my gran - who 'Dancing On The Tables' is about - is a talented performer. My dad inspired me to get involed in music by giving me a trumpet and teaching me how to play while I was in primary school." This seems to have helped Emma's music have a certain relaxed, laidback confidence that allows her to avoid pretention or that over earnest quality that pervades many contemporary artists.

Emma notes that her process is also pretty naturalistic; "Usually I write a song by playing about with a chord sequence until words pop into my head then things tend to take a life of their own from there. All of my songs are based on life experiences or things experienced by people who are close to me." I think the reason that songs of hers have stuck with me, and the clear highlights on this album are cut from the same cloth, is because of that personal honesty that, though on the one hand it is essentially private to the artist, it is often an emotion we can all share in.

"I've certainly been criticised in the past for my music being too personal but I've never wanted it to be any other way. There have only been a few times that I have felt I've been singing about things that are too personal while onstage and on those occassions the person the songs were written about was there in the audience at the time. I always worry about how the person the song is written about/for responds to the track. It does sometimes feel like I am sharing all my heartbreak with a room full of strangers."

On the one hand I am unsure if the basic set-up on this album will have a broad appeal, though Emma has performed with an array of bands - occasionally sharing material from her solo work - the sound of her work on her own has always been stronger. "I like my solo material to sound quite raw and honest, tend to keep it as simple as possible. The band material while also kept quite simple is more rockier and has a bit more attitute. I feel they have two separate identities."

Stand-outs on 'Chocolate + Red Wine' are the mournful, yet still strangely 'up' in its sound, 'The Day We Stopped Talking' which looks back on the end of a relationship with some degree of sadness and distance; yet there is a certain defiant nature to Emma's voice which has a soft, Beth Orton quality. 'Mountain' has certain earmarks of P.J. Harvey and is one of the 'rockier' acoustic numbers on the album which generally has a folk-pop feel to it. Finally the title track is a bittersweet little tale where Emma's voice and guitar come together beautifully, the song, like most of the album, seems centred around the memory and aftermath of a broken relationship and feels very intimate; "I guess I feel that music should be personal. In way I am getting onstage with my guitar and saying hello I'm Emma, and these are some of my life experiences."

You can hear songs and order a copy of 'Chocolate + Red Wine' from Emma herself at: