By Jim Clark
The depth and haunting beauty of the songs of Laura Marling have taken the modern folk scene hostage, leaving it slack-jawed in wondrous amazement. A rare opportunity to enjoy her in performance will be made available as she takes the stage on September 3 at the Somerville Theatre.
Variously compared to such musical titans as Joni Mitchell and Nick Drake, the 23-year-old Brit has, in fact, molded a style all her own and her latest album, Once I Was An Eagle, is a testament to the sheer talent and originality that has propelled her to sudden and well deserved acclaim.
Eagle is the young artist’s fourth album, following 2008’s Alas, I Cannot Swim, 2010’s I Speak Because I Can, and 2011’s A Creature I Don’t Know. Following through the timeline one can discern the evolution of her sound as it has progressed to its present level of excellence. One listen to Eagle will make a fan of the most jaded “nu-folk” doubters. The sound is largely traditional acoustic, but far from hypnotically mellow. Tension builds and subsides throughout and never allows the listener to become bored or distracted. That is one of the most remarkable aspects of this music, its relentless themes of love and beauty juxtaposed with doubt and heartache, refusing to let go until the final chord is sounded.
Born and raised in Hampshire, England, the youngest of three girls, Marling’s formative years were steeped in musical influences largely guided by her father, a music teacher who also ran a recording studio. She learned to play guitar at an early age and, thanks in part to a lot of exposure to traditional folk music, eventually found her own style of writing songs and performing them.
In 2006 Marling moved to London, at the age of 16, and began playing and singing with a number of emerging new groups riding the wave of new traditionalist popularity. She was briefly associated with the indie-folk bands Noah and the Whale and The Rakes. It is said that she once chose to sing on the street because she was refused entry to one of her shows for being underage.
Marling’s first album, Alas, I Cannot Swim, was nominated in 2008 for Mercury Prize, as was her second album, I Speak Because I Can, in 2010.
Of Once I Was An Eagle, Marling says that she conceived of the album as she was finishing up her tour in support of the I Speak Because I Can tour. She confides that she “began feeling dislocated on the open road, and searching for what it meant to be an artist and a woman in the world at an age at which her contemporaries were in college.”
At the time she was “obsessively” collecting records from 1969, which may have significantly shaped the form that her new songs would take. The songs of Eagle are described as following “a thread of mythology, lyrically and metaphorically. An eagle and a dove, the devil, and the sea populate her cast of characters; soundscapes ebb and flow like an epic plot, or, for that matter, an epic road trip across the States.”
Her current road trip brings her to Somerville next week, and it’s a stop that those of us who share in it will find remarkable and unforgettable.
Laura Marling, Tuesday, September 3, 7:30 p.m. at the Somerville Theatre, 55 Davis Square, Somerville. Tickets available through Ticketmaster.