Album Review: Laura Marling Once I Was an Eagle (Virgin) 4 STARS
You have to remind yourself that Laura Marling is still only 23. It's not just because there's very little that's callow about her songwriting, but also the fact that this is her fourth album. Joni Mitchell – with whom Marling is so often compared – did not release her debut until she was 24.
Yet, what's even more remarkable about the Los Angeles-based English folkie – who cut her teeth with Noah and the Whale in her late teens – is the consistently high quality of her work. Marling is a songsmith cut from classic cloth – you won't find her resorting to Auto-Tune or other studio trickery any time soon.
Once I Was An Eagle continues where her last album left off. There's a surfeit of contemplative, acoustic-driven songs where Marling's vocals – assured, intimate, beguiling – are very much to the fore.
Not for her the maximalist approach of so many of her peers with their grandiose arrangements and florid use of electronica: instead, she favours understated, delicate music that compliments her carefully chosen lyrics, rather than overwhelm them.
It's a style that pays handsome dividends on the melancholic You Know which, it has been suggested, is inspired by her former flame, Noah and the Whale frontman Charlie Fink, and on the downbeat title track which will burn its way into your heart given half a chance.
There is no shortage of pulse-quickening numbers, too, with Hunter Gatherer warning would-be suitors about messing with this lady at their peril, while Love Be Brave is one of her few concessions to radio-friendly fare.
At 16 tracks, Once I Was An Eagle feels overlong and – in truth – a handful of the songs are guilty of that glib rejoinder: samey. But with Ethan Johns' sensitive production augmenting her fine songs, Marling has delivered another fine album to bolster an already impressive reputation.
KEY TRACKS Once I Was An Eagle; Hunter Gatherer
FLYING HIGH: LAURA MARLING
Day & Night