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Laura Marling - On a beguiling and timeless second album a star is born
on June 5, 2010
Laura Marling carries a huge weight on her young shoulders, She is still only 20 and yet following an astonishing debut album and a clutch of singles not least of all the brilliant "New Romantic" which she deliberately choose to leave off "Alas I cannot swim" the expectation around this second album is huge. In addition her personal life has become a factor (like it or not). The very public outpouring of heartbreak angst from her ex Charlie Fink of Noah and the Whale on "The First days of spring" has sealed this. Oh and just for good measure her very close chums in the album's backing band Mumford and Sons are currently as popular in the UK as Peyton Manning is at the Indianapolis Colts.
What makes her so special? The answers are vulnerability, versatility and voice. This sophomore album displays all these qualities in good measure. It is an incredibly mature set of songs containing a number of latent classics and potentially the best female voice I have heard since the young Joni Mitchell. Sorry if you think this hyperbole but with talent like this why be measured?
Having listened to this album constantly on repeat since the Times kindly streamed it (and be assured the Amazon order is in) it confirms an enormous step forward and not least since she has avoided the obvious rerun of her debut and some of its more commercial elements. The above paper has called it a "very British album - think snow-covered England, blackberries and cold noses". This description goes someway to capturing its atmospherics of folk rock but not the lyrical depth and breadth which many of her contemporaries lack.
Overall what is noticeable are the many echoes of Dylan on this album. The powerful opener "Devils spoke" has that driving acoustic propulsion and lyrical flow that underpinned "It's alright ma (I'm only bleeding)". It is a bracing and exuberant start. A later powerful song "Hope in the air" reeks of Dylan era "Bringing it back home". "Made by Maid" a gentle ballad could be a riposte to Neil Young's "Man needs a Maid" and then we are into one of the real highlights "Rambling Man". Here the resonances of the Joni Mitchell from the era of "Court and Spark" kicks in. The vocal is stunning and the song charts her vulnerability when she sings
"Beaten, battered, and cold
my children will live just to grow old
but if i sit here and weep
I'll be blown over by the slightest of breeze"
The excellent "Blackberry stone" is an older song which many will have already heard. It has a swooning violin in the background and is first rate. It is followed by an matchless highlight "Alpha Shadows" a song of controlled fury and power which does have a strong Mumford's feel about it. Then comes the utterly gorgeous Goodbye England (covered in snow) forever destined to be a wintry Christmas classic. You really must have a heart of stone not to adore this and it's the one song closest to the sprit of her debut. The three remaining songs are the poignant confessional "What he wrote" where she candidly admits "I miss his smell"; the gossamer light gentility and steady growing exuberance of "Darkness Descends" and epic searing closer "I speak because I can"
Laura Marling has recorded a beguiling and timeless second album and the transition from a teenager to a major artist has been achieved in three short years. Who knows what she can deliver in the future but here we have singer where emerging comparisons to singers like Nick Drake and Joni Mitchell are already possible and where perhaps we should worry less about her private life and more about her mercurial talent.