Laura Marling - I Speak Because I Can

Upload I Speak Because I Can, second album from nu-folk songstress Laura Marling, and under genre it is defined as “unclassifiable.” i-Tunes glitch? Or maybe Marling’s own personal brand of indie-tinged folk – or folk inspired indie, take your pick - defies crass classification. Take in a Laura Marling show and you will see black-clad indie kids who clasp Marling and her sad brooding lyrics to their vulnerable and misunderstood bosoms even more fervently than the folk purists do.

Her debut album Alas I Cannot Swim, short-listed for the prestigious Mercury prize, showed immediate promise. Stark, simple and to the point, the album showcased not only Marling’s beautiful crystal-clear vocals but her prodigious writing talents as well. Songs about depression, loneliness, betrayal and abandonment, all performed with a dignity and straightforwardness that kept them from descending into self-indulgent misery. But was it just a promise? Could a young woman still in her teens perform the same feat twice? Could her follow-up effort be as impressive as her debut? You bet.

People expecting Alas I Still Cannot Swim will be in for a surprise. Though not a radical departure, I Speak Because I Can, produced by Ethan Johns (Kings Of Leon, Rufus Wainwright) is an even braver collection than the first album. While still exploring the same themes, the complicated web of relationships we all get entangled in, the production, as well as Marling’s singing, is bolder and more powerful. With help from members of Noah And The Whale and Mumford And Son’s, the arrangements are fuller but never overpowering. The main focus is still Marling’s remarkable voice and her inspiring collection of songs.

The biggest departure is ‘Devil’s Spoke’, set to be the next single. The music moves like a dervish with a flurry of guitars, banjos and violins transporting it along. This is Marling facing her demons and staring them down: “All of this can be broken / Hold your devil by his spoke and spin him to the ground.” The song is unabashedly passionate, and it is almost as if Marling is watching the events unfold from outside, surprised as anyone by her actions. It is that passion, bubbling just under the surface but never spilling over, that characterizes the entire album. There are moments when you think she will throw down the gauntlet and let loose (and you almost hope she does) yet she keeps herself in check.

Comparisons to Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny have been made, but her phrasing and styling are more akin to early Bob Dylan. This is especially apparent in ‘Made By Maid’ and ‘Rambling Man’, with the music shaping itself around the words like water over stones. Listen to the lyrics in ‘Rambling Man, Marling getting Dylan’s angry nasal snarl down to a tee: “And the weak need to be led / and the tender I’ll carry to their bed / and it's a pale and cold affair / I'll be damned if I'll be found there.”

The haunted ‘Alpha Shallows’ continues with the theme of loving where you should not. Here she is split in two, torn between a lover she both longs for and fears. With mandolins adding to the mournful tone Marling lays her soul bare: ‘ And you’ll work my heart til it’s raw / and you’ll call and you’ll call but you’ll never be told / and I’ll fall and I’ll fall and I’ll fold.”

The glorious Christmas single ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)' flits between old fashioned ballad and astute coming of age manifesto. Starting with a walk in the snow-covered woods, a father tells his eight year old daughter to bring him back to this place before he dies. The music is carefree and lovely, but then the grown-up Marling takes over, words of frustration spilling out so quickly the music has to run to keep up: "And I wrote an epic letter to you / and it’s 22 pages front and back but it’s too good to be used / and I tried to be a girl who likes to be used / I’m too good for that.”

The album isn't all doom and gloom. The spritely 'Darkness Descends' adds a bit of light relief in the style of 'Cross Your Fingers'. With maracas shaking and a bevy of male back-up singers like a Greek chorus, the song brings a bit of tropical sunshine to the British gloom. The album ends with title track, ‘I Speak Because I Can’, with Marling stepping into the skin of Penelope, wife as Odysseus, who is left behind in loneliness and uncertainly: “My husband left me last night / left me a poor and lonely wife / I cook the meals and he got the life.” The music begins soft and mournful, gradually gaining momentum as the singer cries out her frustration against the lot she has been handed. The music rises up in a frenzy then stops abruptly as if all the anger has been dispelled.

These ten tracks can leave you feeling a bit disconcerted, like reading someone’s private diary. The songs, with the simple yet effective arrangements, are at times disturbing, yet their power resonates through you long after the music has stopped. I Speak Because I Can is an immensely moving and satisfying experience. With this album Laura Marling has shown that she can stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best. So she speaks, please listen.

Overall

8

out of 10

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