Sélection du Mercury Prize
Once I Was an Eagle, the fourth long-player from Laura Marling, finds the spectral folk singer relocating to Los Angeles, abandoning her backing band, and delivering a cumbersome yet remarkably confident 16-track, 63-minute collection of alternately intimate and grandiose pre-, present, and post-relationship songs that more or less obliterate her reputation as a stage fright-ridden, pale English flower. The first four tracks, which begin with the languid "Take the Night Off" ("You should be gone beast/be gone from me/be gone from my mind at least/let a little lady be") essentially form a suite, seamlessly flowing in and out of each other like an impromptu, post-breakfast, tobacco smoke-filled rehearsal that just happened to occur amidst a sea of expensive microphones. Marling's reinvention as a Californian will do little to quell all of the Joni Mitchell comparisons which, let's face it, are pretty apt, but songs like "Breathe," "Master Hunter," "Pray for Me," and the quasi-mystical title cut introduce Indian ragas, open tunings, and cathartic, tabla-fueled breakdowns into the mix, suggesting a steady diet of Led Zeppelin III, Pink Floyd's Meddle, and Pentangle as well, which adds to the album's dusty, Laurel Canyon patina. Elsewhere, Marling wanders into Gillian Welch territory on the dark and bluesy, fingerpicked "Undine," and the propulsive "Devil's Resting Place" and sweet and soulful "Where Can I Go?" harken back to the youthful whimsy of 2010's I Speak Because I Can, but Once I Was an Eagle is neither whimsical nor particularly youthful, despite the fact that its creator was only 23 at the time of its conjuring. Marling is an old soul through and through, and her remarkably timeless voice, idiosyncratic lyrics, and increasingly impressive guitar chops help to elevate the album's less immediate moments, and while some may argue that her increasingly Americanized, Pacific coast folk-pop can feel a little like fan fiction, it doesn't make it any less enjoyable to sink your toes into.
© James Christopher Monger /TiVo