Questions mark the new master work from Laura Marling, the English rose and brainy, beguiling neo-folkie. What confirms existence? What guitar tuning is she using? And is that a Bob Dylan quote?
Don’t expect Marling to be your answerer, though – that ain’t her, babe. Her 16-song, 63-minute album is set to the sound of why.
When Marling began writing this, her fourth album, she was heavy into a U.S. schedule to promote the one that came before, the moody, sublimely wrought A Creature I Don’t Know. “All I see is road,” she sings on the new, dusky, southern-styled Where Can I Go?, “No one takes me home.”
Once I Was an Eagle was inspired by Marling’s move from London to Los Angeles, where she scoured vinyl shops for the sounds of Judy Collins and 1969. She dropped her band – she is performing solo on her current tour – and wrote the album without much collaboration. The record was eventually recorded in the pastoral English studio of her regular producer and instrumentalist Ethan Johns, with help from her friend and cellist Ruth de Turberville.
It’s a conceptual acoustic album. As Marling has explained it, “It follows a central character wandering through a grey landscape, and all the while she’s followed by this silent bird.” The avian theme symbolizes freedom and has to do with a metamorphosis – eagle to dove, apparently.
The album’s first group of similar songs merge for a suite, with a droning effect achieved by use of an open-tuned guitar. The stark, dynamic I Was an Eagle has a freak-folk percussive element to it. Lyrically, I hear the rawness and penetrating observations of Mitchell or the Maritime songstress Amelia Curran: “Today I will feel something other than regret / Pass me a glass and a half-smoked cigarette / I’ve damn near got no dignity left.”
Her voice? Imagine Melanie, but with her brand new pair of roller skates stolen off her feet. Or Heart’s Ann Wilson, with her dog shot and her butterflies captured. Master Hunter is heavy and bluesy and without nonsense.
The penultimate track Little Bird has guitar passages naggingly similar to Jose Feliciano, as well as an ornithological Paul McCartney, whose Blackbird sang in the dead of night and whose challenge it was to take its broken wings and learn to fly.
Marling herself asks, “Is it spring, do I sing?” It might be the album’s only question answered.
Laura Marling plays 99 Sudbury in Toronto on May 25.
MORE NEW RELEASES
- Fall of Romance
- Imaginary Cities
- Hidden Pony
Brilliant songs from Temporary Resident (the debut 2011 album the Winnipeg duo of Rusty Matyas and Marti Sarbit) are still in my head as the new disc arrives. Fall of Romance , as the title might indicate, is themed to changing times and passing seasons. Another strong and inspired work from an ear-grabbing band strangely underrated. – Brad Wheeler
- Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock, Jack DeJohnette
Improvising on standards is sometimes dismissed as conservative jazz, but there’s nothing hidebound about the approach Keith Jarrett and his “Standards Trio” take here. Somewhere opens with a spacey collective improvisation that slowly morphs into Miles Davis’s Solar, offers a bubbly refraction of the swing chestnut Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea. By the time the album closes, with a lyric meditation on Jimmy Van Heusen’s I Thought About You, Jarrett and company have definitively demonstrated how much musical possibility lies within seemingly familiar songs. – J.D. Considine