LAURA MARLING – I Speak Because I Can (EMI)

I have to admit that I am something of a latecomer to Laura Marling, but when I did discover her I fell hard, and after loving her debut ‘Alas I Cannot Swim’ I swiftly sought out her early EPs, and even made my own compilation of odd tracks of hers that I found scattered around the internet. So obviously I was really looking forward to her new album, and even though there is a marked change from the laidback style of her early work it is still a great record. ‘Devils’ Spoke’ opens proceedings with the first single lifted from the disc, and with its frenetic pace and jangling banjo, coupled with her evocative lyrics, it emphasises just how much more mature this album is going to be when compared to the musings of the seventeen year old of her debut. ‘Made By Maid’ is just Marling and her guitar, retelling an old English folk tale, and it is on songs like this, harking back to that debut, where the nonchalance of her voice shines through, and if she mumbles here and there it adds to the song rather than distracts from it. ‘Rambling Man’ is another acoustic gem, with the banjo helping out on the faster sections and giving it a real feeling of Americana. ‘Blackberry Stone’ is the only song on here which refers directly to her break-up with Charlie Fink of Noah And The Whale (other songs might be analogies, but Fink really opened up his heart up on The Whale’s ‘The First Days Of Spring’), and the strings add a certain poignancy to this already emotional song. ‘Alpha Shallows’ is about an oppressive yearning to escape from London (and a former lover?) and once again the subtle strings add a depth to the song which helps get over the feeling of suffocation. ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’ was originally released at Christmas, and was my first introduction to Marling’s new style. It is a gorgeous paean to England, with a lovely melody totally unlike her previous work, all enhanced by strings and a chorale, and I loved it on first hearing. ‘Hope In The Air’ is again stripped right back to guitar, vocals, and drums, and together with the totally acoustic ‘What He Wrote’ is the closest we have come so far to her early work. ‘Darkness Descends’ is a jaunty little tune taken at cracking pace, and somewhat at odds with the sometimes sombre lyrics. The title track closes the album with another emotive offering, wrapped in a lush backing of guitar and piano, and just a hint of strings. There seems to be a something of a glut of female singer/songwriters around at the moment, covering just about every genre, from Lady Gaga to Ellie Goulding, via Florence And The Machine and Kate Nash, but where Laura Marling shines is in both her songs and her voice – the former unencumbered by electronic fripperies and gimmicks, and the latter having a richness and depth that belies her tender years. I may have come to her late, but I am certainly glad that I haven’t missed out on hearing one of the best singer/songwriters of her generation.
   
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   Devil's Spoke
     Made By Maid
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