Top positive review
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Her best album so far
on 12 December 2013
I was a big fan of Laura Marling's début album, "Alas I Cannot Swim", but hadn't quite swallowed the hype that followed the subsequent couple of releases and neither matched up to her early potential, to my ears. I hadn't actually intended to buy any more of Laura's albums, but fortunately, I was won over by the sheer weight of the positive reviews and the constant appearances of the album in end-of-year lists. Although I remained sceptical about how good it could possibly be, my scepticism slowly dissolved as I listened to the album for the first time. This is a truly classic folk album, a fully realised, mature collection of songs that, had Joni Mitchell released it, would be considered one of her greatest achievements. Although there are sixteen tracks on "Once I Was An Eagle", there are a couple of suites, which see several consecutive songs being written around the same musical and lyrical themes, my favourite of which being the powerful Dylan-esque "Master Hunter" sequence (there is even a lyrical nod to Bob, just to confirm what we were all thinking). The Indian flavour of the "I Was An Eagle" sequence is spellbinding and the dynamics ebb and flow wonderfully, matching the intensity of the lyrics skilfully. In fact, it is a beautifully recorded album overall and Ethan Johns' production is one of its many strengths.
This is a deeply artistic piece of work, it radiates musical intelligence, and takes quite a few listening sessions to really get to know and appreciate. It is quite clear, early on, that this is an album that it would be quite easy to dislike unless this is (one of) your favoured genre(s) of music and would probably more suit connoisseurs of folk rather than somebody who simply enjoys more popular singer-songwriters. Having said that, this album could also be a gateway for people to discover a taste for and a deeper love for folk artists they hadn't considered before. There are occasional bursts of powerful rhythms on "Once I Was An Eagle" that underpin the sharp thoughts and observations which point towards weariness and cynicism, sometimes towards others, often about herself. This is an album of two halves and, after the interlude, the individual songs flow perfectly. One of my favourite tracks, "Where Can I Go", is a beautifully charming piece augmented by a gently trilling organ that sounds as if it has always been in existence; I cannot imagine that anybody sceptical about this album could fail to be won over by that song and performance alone. The best is almost saved for last with "Saved These Words", which revisits the earlier musical theme from the opening suite, only with a more uplifting and positive feel; it's a triumphant end to a brilliantly accomplished album and surely Marling's greatest achievement to date.