Much of Laura Marling's press has focused on her precocious talent, her ability to craft songs with a maturity unsurpassed by her peers, and a talent for phrasing that usually only comes with decades of experience. Four albums later and it's becoming easier to disregard the subject of the Hampshire native's age. (She's 23, by the way.)
That's not to say that those qualities aren't true of Marling today. Once I Was an Eagle cements the Los Angeles-domiciled songwriter as one of the best in the business. After the philosophical musings of A Creature I Don't Know , Marling here tackles the thorny topic of love head-on.
At first, they're heavy with self-doubt and regret on the quivering Take the Night Off, Once I Was an Eagle and You Know . The latter's references to a "freewheeling troubadour" are perhaps telling of her former dalliances with Marcus Mumford and Noah and the Whale's Charlie Fink.
The rollicking Americana of Master Hunter is comparatively defiant, both musically and lyrically ( "If you want a woman who can call your name, it ain't me, babe" ), but there is salvation in recent love as the album progresses, particularly on the upbeat Love Be Brave (" How does he make love seem so sweet? ") and the vibrant flourish of closing track Saved These Words .
Ethan Johns’s intimate production gives these songs an acutely personal tone, although he would have done well to suggest curtailing the 16 tracks to a more manageable and undiluted running time.
Yet whether she is softly crooning over a plucked guitar or dabbling with organs and percussion for quietly cacophonous climaxes, Marling is never less than captivating.
Comparisons with the greats – Mitchell, King et al – still shimmer in the ether, but they are becoming ever less pronounced.
Download: Master Hunter, I Was an Eagle