Its official - we can now fully celebrate the fact that within our midst is the supreme modern songwriter with her remarkably short but productive career ranking her alongside the greats. The journey of Laura Marling from the sensitive bedsit balladeer of "Alas I cannot swim" to the epic solo sweep of this new album "Once I was an eagle" has never faltered or been side tracked. Her intensity of purpose has been such that her albums now punctuate time as landmarks and it is a damn painful wait until the next one.
Largely dispensing with her band, Marling has looked inwards and shines an often-dark light on her personal and romantic situation. The word "confessional" has always been a label applied to her, but there is something altogether more penetrating and often hurtful at play in this record. Producer Ethan Johns has again let her songs expand and breath. This is exemplified in the first seven songs where Marling and Johns let them flow and, in essence, they morph one into the other in an almost seamless sequence. In the hands of a lesser songwriter, this could be a stifling bore but Marling performs small miracles in these compositions. One unifying factor is a link through a frenetic guitar motif which harks back to the Indian themes of the Dharohar Project, but despite this these songs stand in their own right as a powerful statement where Marling snarls, emotes and accuses ex-lovers of the ultimate romantic failing - sheer disappointment. In the stunning title track, she ruefully reflects "I will not be a victim of romance/I will not be a victim of circumstance/Chance or circumstance or romance/Or any man who could get his dirty little hands on me". Slightly later on the uber powerful "Breathe" a song packed with menace she confesses "How cruel I am to you/How cruel the things I do/How cruel you are to me /How cruel time can be" and you reflect that getting on the wrong side of Marling is not a wise place to be. The pressure does not let up on "Master hunter" where she echoes Dylan and proclaims "Well if you want a woman who can call your name It ain't me babe/No, no, no, it ain't me babe".
The pressure cooker atmosphere does let up following the album's eighth track interlude. The rolling bluesy acoustics of "Undine" are more in tune with the type of approach employed on "I speak because I can" while the sad reflective acoustics of "When can I go" with a hint of the organ is a Marling trademark song and an obvious single. At this early stage "Pay for me" with its sweet melody sounds like a standout while "When you were happy" is almost spoken and the wordplay is dazzling. The album finishes with "Little Bird" where Marling's confidence absolutely oozes through and the song almost demands the repeat button. Finally the sixteenth song on this album that extends over an hour is "Saved these words" a slow builder that leads up to almost a Led Zep style neo-folk barrage while Marling almost lays down a challenge when she exhorts a new lover to recognise that "Life's is not easy/and you're not master, son/when you're ready/into my arms come".
She has of late decamped to the West Coast and there are many American influences here. She has admitted in a recent interview that "I don't know whether I've sort of fallen out of love with English charm, the reservedness of it." Having reviewed Marling's previous albums the easy thing to do was to search for peers and Joni Mitchell was the most obvious of these. But on this new album Marling is her own woman. What is incredible however is that Laura Marling remains in her early twenties and the sheer scale of her songwriting maturity and achievement. It begs the question how can she keep raising the bar on each album and how much better can she get?
on 27 May 2013
Whether directed at Mr Mumford, other suitors unknown or maybe even in some cases herself, the songs in this collection deal with love, betrayal, hope, anger and, a word tellingly used more than once here, naivety. There have been some great break-up albums over the years but this may just be one of the greatest - it will take time to assimilate and compare it properly it to the likes of Blood on the Tracks, Nether Lands and Rumours, but what is clear already is that this is a work of astonishing quality from one so young. The excellence of the lyrics are especially worthy of note in this context - from the glorious early triptych of I Was An Eagle, You Know and Breathe (tracks 2, 3 and 4) to the final track Saved These Words, the lyrical maturity exhibited here is truly extraordinary. I wanted immediately to check what albums Joni Mitchell had produced by the same age - and the answer is none! The comparisons to Mitchell will be inevitable not only lyrically but also in terms of her singing style and her music (which is reminiscent of Hejira in places) but Laura is clearly her own person and treading her own path to mega-stardom which will come sooner rather than later on this evidence. An outstanding achievement.
This is the fourth album from the English songstress de jour Laura Marling. I think it is probably one of her best, it is certainly her most consistent. Marling has written what sounds like a very personal and meaningful set of songs, her writing has certainly matured and flowered over the last couple of releases. Teamed with Ethan Johns, the album is filled with her distinctive powerful voice leading us through tales of love, betrayal, loss and other griefs. There is an undercurrent of anger in her voice, as well as heartbreak. Just behind her voice is a deceptively simple sounding backing, that perfectly supports her voice where needed, erupting into outspoken bridges bursting with energy that breaks up the record and prevents it becoming one note dreary. The tone is firmly rooted in some of our folk traditions, but Marling is a bit of a musical magpie, and there are stretches that are influenced by Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd (indeed, the bass line from `I was an Eagle' seems to have been lifted wholesale from Pink Floyd's `Fearless' on the `Meddle' album). Stand out tracks are the energetic `Master Hunter', with Marling's superb fast singing, and `I was an Eagle', with a great lyric (and bass line).
A great album, from a great singer/songwriter. I feel that as well as her best lyrics to date, her teaming with Ethan Johns has produced a sound that totally suits her, and is quite spectacular. 5 stars for this delight of an album.
on 7 June 2013
I cannot stop playing this beautiful album. Laura Marling has created a work of art which stands comparison with the great singer/songwriter albums. This album deserves your full attention for its one hour duration. There are some breath-taking songs - such as Little Love Caster and Little Bird. The standard starts high, with a moody integrated four song cycle and then builds in quality throughout. The second half (after an intermission) is a total joy. Laura Marling's voice and songs are unique but you can hear the influence of the great writers of the 70's, including Joni, Dylan, Carole King and Laura Nyro. The song writing here is comparable with their best work - great heartbreak albums like Blood on the Tracks and Blue. Must be album of the year - I can't see it being topped in 2013.
on 7 June 2013
I am a big fan of Laura's earlier albums, but I'm finding this collection hard work. Yes, it's delicate and intimate, but for me it lacks dynamic and harmonic variety and is in need of a few cracking tunes. It's easy to stick it on and forget about it.
on 27 July 2013
This is a solid effort; the lyrics are very good and I cannot fault the musicianship. Where this album falls down compared to Marling's previous releases is that most of the songs are of the quiet-musing type and, as such, there are very few points where the listener would be made to look up and take notice. Personally, I think her second album is the best she's released so far in terms of production and variety of material.
However, the first four songs are pleasant to listen to, especially with the segue from one to another; Master Hunter also provides a rare (and welcome) change in dynamic.
Moving away from the music, where this release really falls down is the packaging. I have no problem with the digipack format (it takes up less space on the shelf, after all), but with this album the disk and the lyric sheet are just shoved into a cardboard sleeve with nothing more substantial to protect the CD - personally I'd expect a bit more for the price.
on 13 August 2013
I like Laura Marling's music, and her talent with words, instrument, and voice is clear. But this, the third disk of hers that I've bought, isn't different enough to stand out and I think if anything lacks a bit of the bite of its two predecessors. So... I like it, but it's not the disk of hers that I reach for.
on 23 December 2013
Everything just gets better and better with Marling. Unlike her more recent albums, this one features mostly Marling herself, bandless, becoming more and more erudite on guitar, unleashing elegiac ragas and Spanish cat's cradles (the expressive Little Love Caster. Non-guitar sounds including organ and lap steel are provided by multi-instrumentalistproducer Ethan Johns and two close friends: Ruth de Turberville on cello (she provides the vinyl-flipping Interlude halfway in) and keyboardist Peter Roecorrect, on board since the first record.
Once I Was an Eagle finds this very English singer-songwriter living in LA (although not, as you might have assumed, in Laurel Canyon). Reading between the lines, she may have followed her heart (there is a "new friend, across the sea", whose life she asks to be "figured into" on When Were You Happy?). Well, it worked for Richard Thompson.
As the translucence of those lines suggest, ...Eagle leaves behind, to some extent, the cat-and-mouse fictionalising of Marling's earlier songs, which were often inspired by literary sources or heavily cloaked scenarios. It speaks more directly of her own hard-won romantic qualifications. She is, still, a 23-year-old figuring it all out, but one who sings things like "When we were in love/I was an eagle/and you were a dove," never wallowing, always sifting for silver in the silt of human relations.
on 30 May 2013
Now let me start off my saying that this is a good album, but there are a lot of reasons that shouldn't be the case.
Firstly its sounds like Marling had Page & Plant's "No Quarter" on repeat play before she recorded this record. Then there's that odd Mid-Atlantic accent that she's adopted (is Laura really that desperate to crack the States, I don't recall Richard Thompson ever speaking Yankee). Then there is the production, which is really muddy, whatever Ethan Johns & Dom Monks were attempting, it's not worked.
This is Marling going for an epic sounding record, but I think it's a bit of a contrived mentally to adopt, you can't force your fans to perceive the CD as a classic album, it has to happen almost organically.
But for all its flaws, this is still an outstanding record. Marling is a unique & extraordinary talent, with fascinating lyrics (all be it a bit bizarre sometimes), delivered with a great sneer, which makes a refreshing change from all the passive singer-songwriters currently doing the rounds.
So not quite as good album as Marling perceives ("I Speak Because I Can" is still probably her strongest record to date), but not too far off the mark, & if she had made the perfect album, , it's normally down hill from then on.
on 2 June 2013
I've got all three previous Laura Marling albums, so when this one was released I didn't have any hesitation in buying it. I've not regretted it, and I've really enjoyed seeing Marling's maturation over the course of these four albums (and in only five years). I feel that this is the most accomplished album she's released so far, yet somehow I find her straying further from the more English folk feel of her first two albums, and I'm not sure that I prefer this direction.
My stand-put track is 'Master Hunter', with the frantic feeling folk guitar jangling away, and the lyrical nods to Bob Dylan. Although it does seem a tad sacrilegious in choosing a track as the album as a whole is really what's so impressive. The first four tracks seem as one, and although it's a long album, at just over an hour, it does all flow effortlessly into a single long track. This is surely the best sign of Marling's growing musical capability and maturity.
Although this isn't my favourite Marling album to listen to, I really appreciate the album as a whole. I'm sure that this album will get better and better with subsequent listens, although I doubt it'll grace my speakers as much as Alas I Cannot Swim. But it's still a great album by one of my favourite artists around just now.