LAURA MARLING – Once I Was an Eagle

Album: Once I Was an Eagle

Artist: Laura Marling

Label: Ribbon Music

Release Date: May 28, 2013

Laura Marling 


 Should you wish to measure your own slack achievements against a creative dynamo, look no further than Laura Marling. Having begun her recording career at nineteen, at twenty-three she releases her fourth, and most aggressively assured album Once I Was an Eagle.  

Her third collection, A Creature I Don’t Know, was stunning, steeped in British folk and Malibu song craft, but strikingly original and genre busting. Eagle is less of a Whitman’s sampler, less blindingly diverse in ways than Creature, but no less assured in its unities.

 Eagle combines the dark drama of British folk balladry, North African rhythmic propulsions and sheer performance intensity in ways that evoke acoustic Led Zeppelin more than Marling’s previously familiar Joni Mitchell moves. Marling cut her performances in single takes over a ten-day period. Her acoustic guitar work, while capable of beautiful delicacy, is often brash (more Jimmy than Joni). Ruth de Turberville’s expressive cello and producer Ethan John’s utility man performances on keys and percussion all keep the live vibe fresh, even if many of their parts were indeed overdubbed. And if Eagle is in some ways less diverse than Creature, its intensity and thematic unity make it at least as impressive.

 Eagle’s first four or five songs especially have a similar tone and concept, a suite of songs about the fire of love and its ashen aftermath. There’s a smoky resignation to “Take the Night Away, as Marling coos, “No, I didn’t ask you to behave for me.” But for  “I Was an Eagle” she asserts “I will not be a victim of romance;” her voice acquiring a sly, honeyed quality similar to Chrissie Hynde – a new influence who inhabits several of these songs, including “Little Love Caster” and “Love Be Brave.”

‘Master Hunter” exudes confidence. John’s drumming is ferocious, Marling rages “you want a woman who will call your name, but it ain’t me babe.” She confidently dots these songs with throwaway quotations from her inspirations. Throughout these songs Marling’s emotional range as a singer is unleashed. Always reminiscent of Mitchell, and sometimes Sandy’s Denny’s icy passion, here Marling acquires some of Nyro’s brooding, volcanic tone and even hints of the smoky, wounded expression of a Nina Simone.

 “Little Love Caster” moves from flamenco to renaissance melodic strains, again pugnacious in its pop cultural references (“I’m not your tiny dancer.”).  Eagle’s insistent examination of a broken love maintains through the first seven songs, culminating in the dervish, Moroccan fervor of “Devil’s Resting Place,” the songs’ melodic descent evoking “Paint it Black” in musical onomatopoeia.

  The mood begins to change with “Interlude,” a Moondog inspired pallet cleanser.

 The next eight songs resonate more with Marling’s previous music. For “Undine,’ the Nick Drake/Bert Jansch (even the ascending familiarity of the motive from “Stairway to Heaven”) feel finds Marling in a more conciliatory mood (“sing your love for me”). “Where Can I Go?” and “Once” feature John’s Al Kooper/Garth Hudson inspired organ work, instantly evoking their playing with Bob Dylan.  “Once” suggests Blood on the Tracks and The Basement Tapes; “Where Can I Go?” has an earthy, familiar confidence (“once is enough to break you … make you”) – putting ‘Just Like a Woman’s” shoe on the other foot.

 “Little Bird” resolves the Joni-Zep tension through synthesis, its gorgeous arrangement accompanying an ode to animal transfiguration, Marling singing, “If I only Knew I’d be more like you.”

  “Little Bird” sets up “Saved These Words,” a building, blasting apotheosis of Marling’s many tensions, loves, longings, resentments, and rage – a fitting close to this powerful song cycle. But it’s not the sweet resolution that “All My Rage” delivered to cap and relieve Creature. It begins empathetically, Marling singing, “Life is heavy, you’re the masters’ son, when you’re ready into my arms come.” The song’s valedictory, finger picking gradually yields to something more declamatory; Marling moving from Hynde to Patti Smith levels of possession (“thank you naiveté for failing me again”), exclaiming more than singing. The songs’ emotion spills out over the conventional boundaries of singer-songwriter’s mannerly idioms.

 You can almost anticipate a full-blown “Marling goes electric” moment soon in this masterful young artist’s career. Hey, Dylan at Newport … was twenty-four.

DOWNLOAD: “Master Hunter,” “Undine,” “Where Can I Go?”


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