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After having really enjoyed Laura Marling's debut album ("Alas, I Cannot Swim"-2008) I decided to make the most of Amazon's recent "99p MP3 Albums offer" and bought her follow up album "I Speak Because Can" (2010). Sadly, it appears I'm not as much of a Marling fan as I thought I was with this album having been released 2 years before I even knew about it.
Before I start the actual review, I'd just like to explain, for those who have yet to hear her, who Laura Marling is. She's a 20 something (apparently 22 year old) English folk singer from Hampshire in the south of England. She is known for her somewhat haunting vocals and dark lyrics as well as a very mature (especially for a 22 year old) musical style which often makes her sound like a much older and much more accomplished musician than she is (that's not a slight either).
So on to the album. The album opens with track "Devil's Spoke" which despite be an up beat sounding track it does have a harrowing sound through it, mainly due to Marling's vocals which although brilliant always sound haunting. It's a good starter to the album, though I wouldn't call it one of the albums highlights.
The album's second track "Made By Maid", has a more authentic folk sound and actually sounds somewhat like a Nick Drake track with very beautiful backing music, a much slower tempo than the opener and wonderful singer that sounds so simplistic but yet so effective. For fans of Marling's debut album this is the sort of sound that they will be used to and shows everything that made Marling such a highly regarded artist.
With out going through a song by song review, the album simply grows from the opening tracks and by tracks 4 ("Blackberry Stone") and 5 ("Alpha Shallows") the album is in full Marling with a tasteful portion of depressive sounds, beautiful delivery and wonder. Whilst the songs aren't to everyones taste they are certainly what Marling fans will love to hear and are a perfect example of how to do depressive folk music with out needing to sell your soul and commercialise your music. It's also during these tracks that you really start to realise just how mature Marling's music is and your once again shocked that this is an artist who is only in her 20's.
For some reason track #6, "Goodbye England (Covered in Snow)", was released as the album's first single, and for me this was a weird choice as it's actually one of the albums weakest tracks and certainly doesn't have the same quality that made Laura's first album so brilliant. Despite not being awful it's certainly a low point in a very outstanding album, that thankfully picks up again with the next track "Hope in the Air" (which features additional vocals from Marcus Mumford-the lead singer from Mumford and Sons).
The album ends with the dark but excellent title track, "I speak Because I Can", a song that really shows just how poetically dark Marling can be at her best and whilst it's not the best song on the album, it's better than pretty much everything you will hear on mainstream radio. Sadly however it brings me to the biggest complaint with the album, it's length. With just 10 tracks (and less than 37 minutes of music) it's incredibly short and is perhaps a track or two short of earning 5 stars. The quality of what we have is excellent. Sure we have the occasional bump in the road though with an odd poor track but overall the tracks are excellent and there is little to really complain about in terms of the music.
If you enjoy folk music, haunting vocals or interesting lyrics then this is an album you simply must listen to this album.
For Laura Marling the task of following on from the success of her debut album Alas I Cannot Swim would prove to be very difficult. Her debut created an air of expectation about the follow up and now with its release in March of last year it is plain to see that the singer songwriter from Hampshire thrived under that pressure. It was almost 2 years in the making but following the release of the first couple of singles it was clear just how talented Marling really is. Her unique style of contemporary folk really stands out from the mass produced pop music market and that is what makes her music so popular.
Laura Marling you Say
That is correct the young singer songwriter from Hampshire has really begun to make a name for herself in the music industry. Her debut album only reached number 45 in the Uk charts, however between 2008 and 2010 her stock really began to rise and this album peaked at number 9. Both albums have also been nominated for the Mercury Music Prize in 2008 and 2010, which is a remarkable achievement for someone who doesn't even turn 21 until February. Her ability to combine thought provoking lyrics with a very haunting and vast vocal range gives her the ability to produce a varied spectrum of music.
Marling and Me
She had previously been a member of Noah and the Whale before going solo and deciding on a different career path. My own introduction to Marling was through The Rakes track Suspicious Eyes where her distinctive vocals really shone through and later her appearance on the Mystery Jets track Young Love convinced me that I should buy her debut and subsequently this album. She states her influences as being from a very folk background and includes Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan.
She Sings Because She Can
Having been a fan of her debut album I was really looking forward to hearing what this album would sound like and whilst there are similarities with that album this one is a step beyond. It sees a far more mature and intimate sound from Marling and nowhere is that more evident than on Hope In The Air. It is a very moving and thought provoking song that highlights not only Marling's ability as a singer/songwriter but the additional talent of what she can achieve with a guitar in her hands.
Of course the style of the album is evident from the quiet and atmospheric introduction to the albums opening track and second single Devil Spoke. The slow introduction builds into a very powerful guitar backing that really suits Marling's vocals well. The two elements really mix well and it seems quite appropriate that some of the track sounds like Mumford and Sons, given that the bands lead singer Marcus Mumford provides backing vocals on this track and also the rest of the album.
I've already mentioned Marling's wide range of vocal talents and straightaway that is highlighted on the switch to the albums second track Made By Maid. She has a much more stretched tone at times on this track but it still really suits her vocals. The backing with the bass and guitars provide a very soulful piece of music that is really accentuated by Marling's vocals. That is certainly prevalent on this track and others on the album such as the album's title track I Speak Because I Can. With the different styles of vocals and the lyrical content of each track it shows Marling for the talented artist she is.
Of course it isn't all slow folk music either, there are an equal number of faster tracks as slower ones and perhaps two of the best examples of this faster pace are Rambling Man and Darkness Decends. Both tracks have a much more upbeat feel to them and again show a different side to her musical talents.
A lot of the album really has a very contemporary folk vibe to it though and there are perhaps less recognizable singles on this album. That is perhaps more because Marling is a better album artist and her songs work very well together. The order of the tracks and the pace really seems to help and that is really evident in the middle section of the album where it works its way from the beautiful Blackberry Stone to the particularly haunting Alpha Shallows before taking a slightly different direction again with Goodbye England (Covered In Snow). This whole section of the album really shows her versatility well.
Bucking The Trend
It seems in the music industry the second album is always the measure of an artist and it would be fair to say that where many fail or falter, Laura Marling has definitely taken this opportunity to get even better. The album has a far more mature sound both musically and lyrically and whilst there are less obvious singles on it, there are 11 very solid tracks that show how incredibly talented she is. I couldn't honestly say that i loved the whole album on first listen but it did grow on me very quickly and I think if you like your Folk music and particularly the likes of Mumford and Sons and older material from the likes of Joni Mitchell and Bob Dylan then you will no doubt like this. It's an album I have no hesitation in recommending for fans of the Folk genre.
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I Speak Because I Can is Laura Marling's eagerly anticipated second album, coming three years after her Mercury nominated debut album Alas I Cannot Swim.
This album is equal to, if not better than her debut album. It offers songs which are not only lyrically excellently but also instrumentally. There is a clear influence from Mumford and Sons who provide both the backing music and vocals in some songs. Overall the album has a real raw cut back feel with the use of acoustic guitars, banjo, drums and other instruments used to create a folk-rock feel.
There are no weak/filling tracks on the album with the tracks being darker than those on her debut album with most songs starting quietly and building into a folk - rock melody as each song reaches the end, with Devil's Spoke and Rambling Man being fine examples of this.
The only disappointing part of the album was her last single New Romantic did not feature on the album at all.
The only potential problem with the album is it may not be for everyones taste because this is different to the mainstream chart music and could lead to it not getting the recognition it definitely deserves.
Overall this is one of the best albums of the year so far and given the number of new and established solo female artists this album stands head and shoulders above the rest in my opinion. This is because this album is not only unique at this current time but is also so catchy and enjoyable that you won't want to listen to the album just once.
A 10 out of 10 album.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Devil's Spoke
2 Made By Maid
3 Rambling Man
4 Blackberry Stone
5 Alpha Shallows
6 Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)
7 Hope In The Air
8 What He Wrote
9 Darkness Descends
10 I Speak Because I Can