Music: Laura Marling * * * * *
I Speak Because I Can (EMI)
Laura Marling enjoys the distinction of being the youngest act to be nominated for the Mercury Music Prize. She was just 18 when her debut, Alas I Cannot Swim, got shortlisted and although it lost out to Elbow's The Seldom Seen Kid, the exposure did this Hampshire folk singer the power of good.
Two years later and the former Noah and the Whale member is back with a new look -- the blonde tomboy has been replaced by an elegant brunette -- and a second album that should put her into the front rank of British singer-songwriters. I Speak Because I Can is a folk album of the highest order, but these sparse, beautiful songs should appeal to anyone who likes honest, timeless music that has something to say.
Listen to these 10 tracks and it is difficult to believe that Marling is just 20 years old. There's a maturity to the writing that suggests a far older songwriter, and it almost beggars belief that several of these songs -- the spellbinding Rambling Man among them -- were first conceived when she was only 17.
Her vocals are clear and true, her lyrics suggest a poet's ear and her music, while rooted in classic English folk, manages to be both fresh and surprising. Songs such as the arresting Devil's Spoke and the unsettling Blackberry Stone have a timeless, organic quality. They are compositions that have been honed on the live circuit and they have been recorded without recourse to modern studio gimmickry. One could happen upon these songs and imagine they were recorded 40 years ago by a contemporary of Nick Drake's.
Many of the songs are likely to burn themselves into your memory, but it's the title track that may leave the greatest impact. Described tongue-in-cheek by Marling as "a mini folk power-ballad", it imagines the spiritual and emotional reawakening of a woman whose husband has walked out on her. This profoundly beautiful piece, which closes the album, is the ticket that should buy Marling the acclaim she so richly deserves.
Burn it: I Speak Because I Can; Rambling Man; Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)