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I Speak Because I Can
Laura Marling I Speak Because I Can
Released 22 March 2010
Producer Ethan Johns
Label Virgin Records
Length 37:21
Genre Folk
Website www.lauramarling.com

A Mercury Prize nominee at age eighteen, Laura Marling's 2008 debut Alas, I Cannot Swim, established her as the most precocious young songwriter in modern day Britain. Around this time, she also became burdened with the mantle of nu-folk’s ‘it girl’ (her choice of suitors not helping the matter – Charlie Fink of Noah & The Whale and recently, Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons).

Thankfully, Marling is a far more complex and rewarding artist than her FM-lite associates. Put plainly she’s the real deal. And her sophomore effort proves it.

I Speak Because I Can opens with the Celtic-tinged ‘Devil’s Spoke’. Summoning the spirit of a highland banshee, Marling repeats her ghostly prophecy, “All of this can be broken”, as swathes of fiddle and banjo swell. It’s a rousing start to an ambitious record.

For the most part producer Ethan Johns (Ryan Adams, Kings Of Leon) has helped expand Marling’s stripped back approach.  The majority of the album sees her introduce songs with a solitary guitar and enticing whisper, before whipping us up in a whirlwind of pastoral strings and crashing cymbals, ‘Rambling Man’ being a highlight in this respect.

The rest of the album continues in a similar vein of traditionalist lore, never once feeling like a parody of past pioneers.  Much of Marling’s appeal lies in her ability to remind listeners of true songwriting greats (Nick Drake on ‘Made By Maid’, Joni Mitchell on ‘Darkness Descends’) comfortably assuming the role of an old head on young shoulders. No other twenty year old would be able to convincingly deliver an opening couplet such as that of closer and title track ‘I Speak Because I Can’: “My husband left me last night, left me a poor and lonely wife. I cook the meals and he got the life, Now I'm just old for the rest of my time.”

Despite the remarkable maturity that pervades ‘I Speak…’, Laura Marling is truly at her best when giving some reminder of the girl behind the earthy fables.  The album’s high point, ‘Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)’, reads as a farewell to a winter romance and the country that’s cradled her. Its breakdown refrain of “Feel like running, Feel like running”, replete with added Mumford, sees the already cinematic song, burst into majestic widescreen. For a musician that rarely panders to ‘the festival sing-a-long hit’, it will serve as a valuable addition to her live set.

Putting track 7, ‘Hope In The Air’, aside (her haughty English accent too reminiscent of a BBC period drama), this is a magnificent piece of work.  And with a third album promised before the end of 2010, Laura Marling’s creativity shows no sign of relenting.

- Danny Carroll