A 20-year-old British folksinger makes a classic album.
Mon May 10 2010
Keats wrote “Ode on Melancholy” at age 23. Jackson Browne penned “These Days” at 16, and Nick Drake wrote “Time Has Told Me” at 20. To this list of young overachievers, add Laura Marling, a British folksinger who released her second album having just celebrated her 20th birthday. Of course, a record is either good or not, the age of the person who made it neither here nor there. But I Speak Because I Can stands on its own merits as what critics nervously call a classic album. It’s imbued with an earthy, worn-in quality that is not only mature, but actually kind of ancient. Recorded deep in the British countryside, the albums feels like it comes from ancient kings’ country.
But perhaps what Marling really shares with Keats & Co., beyond youth, is her struggle with depression. Though it’s plainly present in her songs—“I’m not well again,” she sings on “Darkness Descends”—it’s never hammed up or romanticized with shortcut string arrangements or glib clich. The music has such a bare, easy beauty, it feels like standing in a cold, empty room.
When Marling was 17, her live shows were awkward, halting affairs. But during the past three years. she has become a mesmerizing performer, the kind of musician who can still a room with the first few notes of a song. Call it confidence or courage, it’s a remarkable thing to see. As the singer affirms on “Rambling Man”: “Let it always be known / That I was who I am.”
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