The forward march of Laura Marling continues unabated and seems unstoppable. Her last album "I speak because I can" landed as a fully formed and assured work where comparisons to great singer songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Janis Ian and Laura Nyro were not only possible but also entirely appropriate. On "A Creature I don't know" her third album (and remember she is only 21) she produces an album full of different colours and moods ranging from jazzy hoedowns', to Spanish inflected acoustics and in "the Beast" a uber powerful electronic lament which P J Harvey would have been proud to write. Marling also develops the trend found in "I speak" to a much braver confessional style of lyrics and lays her heart bare in a number of the songs, with broken romance the central theme. All these factors add up to a heady mix and it is hardly surprising that her forthcoming "Cathedral" tour is the hottest ticket in town.
The album starts by Marling's standards in a musical mood of frivolity with "The Muse" and "I was just a card". The first is a jazzy whirl of banjo's and cello's where Marling warns "Don't you be scared of me/I'm nothing but the beast/And I'll call on you when I need to feast." The second takes as its template the sort of melodic pop balladry of vintage Joni Mitchell circa "Court and Spark". It has enough that is distinctive to set it aside from mere reverence and it is a sparkling start. Things slow perceptibly in the next track "Don't ask me why" which would have happily fitted on "I Speak" and the powerful John Steinbeck inspired "Salinas" where you detect that Marling has become a more polished and sultry singer with the passage of time. As stated above "the Beast" is a real point of departure. A pensive start leads to angry chords and lyrics which act as a counterpoint to the opener "The Muse" where Marling bitterly regrets "Where did our love go, you will never know/ How did you get home, you will never know". This is underpinned by a huge menacing electric backdrop and thunderous conclusion. Its angry denunciation may mark her best song to date and shows that along with Joni Mitchell the New York rock poet Patti Smith may be a new source of inspiration. It is therefore some relief to be followed by the stunningly beautiful and gentile "Night after Night" a sort of Leonard Cohen style love confessional and in its own way an equal highlight. The song "My friends" alternatively has those Jose Gonzalez rolling guitar runs but to these ears is possibly the track on the album that may require most listening effort.
The final three songs however seal the deal. The wistful "Rest in best" builds in a powerful surge with Marling accompanied by angelic backing vocals. The single "Sophia" shows her bold confidence with an almost spoken introduction where she almost taunts a former love (Marcus Mumford?) that "Where I've been lately is no concern of yours/ whose been touching my skin/who have I been letting/shy and tired-eyed am I today". It is brilliant and bold and deserves to be heaped with accolades as it stretches out at 3 minutes to a huge acoustic monster. Finally the album ends with the exuberant "All my rage" which shows that Marling is still great friends with Johnny Flynn on a song that has a joyous Sussex Wit folk quality underpinning.
Marling is often described a fierce talent and on "A Creature I don't know" which is her third album in three years and masterly produced by Ethan Johns she fully confirms that her incredible maturity as a singer songwriter goes well beyond the moment of a "nu folk" flash in the pan. She has emerged as our finest young writer and on the evidence of this new album currently can do no wrong.