Laura Marling must now be considered one of the greatest singer-songwriters of both her generation and generations before it.
She can easily sit side-by-side with PJ, Joni and Sandy. This fourth album finds her continuing to break away from the nu-folk label she shared with former bandmates and lovers Noah And The Whale and Mumford And Sons. She’s truly making her own dent in folk history.
‘Once I Was An Eagle’ is a beautiful achievement. Its songs blend together, creating something almost concept-album-like. It’s speckled with varying styles from Balkan to Americana, and sewn together with some of Marling’s most tender songwriting of recent years.
There are a few nods to fellow folkies: there’s the medieval touch of Joanna Newsom’s ‘Have One On Me’, and the almost-spoken vocals with minimalist accompaniment is reminiscent of Bill Callahan’s work.
But ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ is still unmistakably Marling’s creation. ‘Devil’s Resting Place’ and ‘Undine’ hark back to her early days, comfortably sitting beside more contemporary developments.
This is Marling’s most soulful album. The gospel-in-parts atmosphere of ‘Where Can I Go?’ has a hint of Carole King about it; ‘Breathe’ is mesmerising with its lone cello from Ruth de Turberville and peppering of double bass; and the brilliant ‘Master Hunter’ (video below) verges on bluegrass.
There’s a Jolie Holland (or Jodie Foster) recalling accent creeping in, which is odd for a Hampshire girl. But Marling’s voice is still wonderfully intimate, and mature beyond its years.
It’s a long album – 16 songs with interlude – but ‘Once I Was An Eagle’ (appropriately) flies by. New intricacies emerge on every listen, from the ghostly percussion of ‘Little Love Caster’ and the sweetest of melodies in ‘Pray For Me’. Without doubt, this is one of the folk albums of the year.
Words: Gemma Hampson
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