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Laura Marling - Once I Was An Eagle (Album Review)

Wednesday, 22 May 2013 Written by Jonny Rimmer

Hype can be damaging when scrutinising the worth of an artist. Laura Marling is a young talented songwriter that I have not necessarily given the light of day. Maybe it was her association with the likes of Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale that affected my judgement, or perhaps I just struggled to identify her value in our dime a dozen industry – after all we already have Bat For Lashes, Martha Wainwright, Fiona Apple, Joanna Newsom...  

What is really striking about Marling, however, is her age – she's 23. Given the self-assurance that resonates in both her lyrics and vocal delivery, it is so easy to just roll out the old cliché that she is “mature beyond her years” but that is too obvious (especially given the assort of Joni Mitchell progenies I just mentioned). What I will highlight is Marling's hugely impressive songwriting and wonderful taste for arrangements. The dynamic rhythm section here is tailored to match her vocal inflections, but as composed as the whole ordeal is, Marling still sounds liberated and emotional, without resorting to over-the-top sentiment. 

The first four/five tracks on the album form a kind of suite, frequently threatening to burst into a crescendo under Marling's exclamatory observations that she “will not be a victim of romance” and criticising young girls that “fall in love with the first man they see”. Despite the earnest cynicism, Marling is utterly galvanising, playing the tension between the strummed guitar bursts and reflective verses beautifully. She also demonstrates her range on more melancholic tracks, with her delicate quiver on 'Little Love Caster' and 'Devil's Resting Place' swirling alongside Latin finger picking; a sound that one would usually associate more with a husky male voice (think Matt Elliott or even Tom Waits).  

Ironically, it is not the suite but the second half of the album that tends to mesh together most indistinctly, and momentum is somewhat lost on an album that is over an hour long with little variation. 'Undine' is a bright spot with its melodic guitar flourishes and catchy refrain, and I can see  it being a single. I'm less enthused by the tracks boasting a more Americana tinge, notably 'Where Can I Go?', but then I have an unnatural listening phobia of hammond organs so I guess that is just me being prejudiced. Considering her mainstream presence though, 'Once I Was An Eagle' is surprisingly difficult to pick holes in, exhibiting a great degree of ambition to match Marling's gorgeous vocals. This one is a bit long, but Marling is showing no signs of dwindling creativity.

'Once I Was An Eagle' is released on Monday 27th May.

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