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Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can

Laura Marling, I Speak Because I Can

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

LAURA Marling was Mercury nominated for her debut LP, 2008’s excellent Alas, I Cannot Swim. If anything, its successor I Speak Because I Can is even better and destined to land her even more plaudits.

A confident collection of folksy songs that showcase a lyrical and vocal talent who is wise beyound her 20 years, it’s a thought-provoking LP that’s honest, articulate and often beautifully composed.

In putting the 10 songs together, Marling chose Ethan Johns to produce, as she credits many of his earlier records (among them Ray LaMontagne, Kings of Leon, Emmylou Harris, Sarabeth Tucek) with kindling her interest in music, and had long admired his way of working (particularly his use of reels and his quiet, traditional methods of production).

She subsequently credits him with giving her the space to find her own identity, thereby allowing her to reveal a new maturity that’s evidenced in a harder, more world-wearied vocal style and maturer issues.

Yet for all its American instrumentation, its shades of Crosby Stills and Nash, Joni Mitchell, Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, and – of course – its American producer, the songs are tales deeply rooted in England – Marling’s home.

Few songs demonstrate that more than Goodbye England (Covered in Snow), which paints vivid pictures of snow-capped landscapes, while reflecting on her steadfastly independent spirit via lyrics such as “I tried to be a girl who likes to be used, I’m too good for that, there’s a mind under this hat”.

As with the songs on Alas I Cannot Swim, songs that start deceptively simple, often blossom into intricately layered slices of songwriting that incorporate a wealth of instrumentation (particularly on some of the later tracks).

But there’s also several moments when the album yields a more immediate impact. Former single and album opener, Devil’s Spoke, for instance, is a rousing entry point that firmly underlines the growing confidence in her songwriting and ability.

Admittedly, it’s 40 seconds before the sombre piano chord gives rise to some rapid, Mumford & Sons-style acoustic strumming… but once the track gets going, it finds Marling channelling the quality of Beth Orton (vocally) and those Mumford boys thanks to the banjo weaving its way furiously in and out, like some blues-rock footstomper. It immediately grabs your attention.

Made By Maid strips things down to offer a dusky campfire dweller that finds Marling simply accompanied by her acoustic guitar and various telling observations of lost relationships and soul searching, before Rambling Man threatens to repeat the formula, before disarming you completely with its slow layering.

Another highlight, in fact, Rambling Man re-introduces the banjo flourishes and contains elements of both Turin Brakes and Mumford & Sons instrumentally, while offering another heart-on-sleeve moment of lyrical sincerity.

There are some, I might add, who may find the seriousness of Marling’s newfound maturity a little wearying and/or precocious… but that’s to overlook her signicifant talent. There should be more songwriters like her, especially in the mainstream.

Further highlights come from the melancholy Blackberry Stone, which weaves in some genuinely affecting strings, and Alpha Shallows, which opens with some Spanish guitar licks before opening into something altogether more foreboding, courtesy of its emphatic, Eastern-European sounding strumming and vocal humming. It’s a rousing offering that gives way cleverly into the quieter introspection of Goodbye England.

There’s a jolly, country-inspired loopiness to the playful licks of Darkness Descends, which cleverly belies the darker tone of the song, while I Speak Because I Can rounds things off in supremely satisfying fashion with another guitar-backed offering.

It’s testament to Marling’s obvious talent, however, that come the end you’ll be craving more and still suspecting that even better is still to come from her. We can but look forward to both.

Download picks: Devil’s Spoke, Rambling Man, Alpha Shallows, Darkness Descends, Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)

Track listing:

  1. Devil’s Spoke
  2. Made by Maid
  3. Rambling Man
  4. Blackberry Stone
  5. Alpha Shallows
  6. Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)
  7. Hope in the Air
  8. What He Wrote
  9. Darkness Descends
  10. I Speak Because I Can