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Album review: 'Once I Was An Eagle,' Laura Marling

Marling

Marling Photo by Courtesy photo

Laura Marling has been widely regarded in the folk world as one of the strongest lyricists of her generation. Her newest album lives up to this high praise.

“Once I Was An Eagle” features some of Marling’s most honest, raw, and sophisticated lyrics about love, remorse, and self-protective apathy. Her words are darkly poetic, hauntingly relatable — “You weren’t my curse/Thank you naivety for failing me again/he was my next verse.”

Marling’s past three albums, “Alas, I Cannot Swim” (2008), “I Speak Because I Can” (2010), and “A Creature I Don’t Know” (2011), were all similar in content and tone. Her newest album shows progression with her lack of inhibition. While her past albums have featured vague, emotionally reserved lyrics, the lyrics in “Once I Was An Eagle” are candid and vulnerable.

Marling’s progression is not simply marked by her lyrical endeavors, but also the melodic and instrumental elements of her songs, which in the past were purely folk. In exploring country, jazz, and blues sounds, Marling uses this album to venture into territories she hadn’t previously, while maintaining her folk roots.

Many well-known folk artists’ influences show through in “Once I Was An Eagle.” Bob Dylan has a lyrical shout out in the catchy country single, “Master Hunter” (“it ain’t me babe”), while Joni Mitchell’s musical influence can be heard throughout the entirety of the album in the guitar melodies and exploration of jazzy folk. At times Marling can sound like a mimic of Mitchell, but for the most part she maintains her identity while paying homage to her influences.

The album flows much more than cohesively any of her previous works. Beginning with an ethereal four-track introduction (“Take The Night Off”/“I Was An Eagle”/“You Know”/ “Breathe”) with melodies that transition seamlessly, the first 15 minutes of the 63-minute album fly by. The next three tracks are fierce and passionate, both lyrically and melodically.

After a two-minute orchestral interlude, the tone of the album becomes less searing while maintaining the quality of the first seven tracks. The beginning of the album features a standoffish, callous demeanor toward love. Along with relentless lyrics, it displays bold crescendos and loud guitar riffs, which mellow out toward the end of the album. 

After the interlude, Marling’s lyrics become more introspective, focusing on her emotions as opposed to warding off potential lovers. Despite the majority of the songs taking a more subtle tone, certain songs, such as “Little Bird,” feel overproduced and out of place on the album.

High points of the album include “Master Hunter,” the dark, brooding “Devil’s Resting Place,” and “Little Love Caster,” which harken back to Marling’s older songs with beautiful Spanish classical guitar riffs.

The album could not end on a better note with the understated “Saved These Words.” The closing track brings back the guitar riff from the introductory overture and essentially encapsulates the tone of the entire album with elements of old and new Marling combined into one thought-provoking, heart-wrenching song.

The verdict: By maintaining her folk roots while exploring alternate genres, Marling soars with fierce lyrics and nostalgic melodies. 

Reach contributing writer Tessa Stephenson at development@dailyuw.com. Twitter: @TessaLee823

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