Laura Marling is bringing new life to the indie folk genre with a new album and tour
Maija Gustin | Monday, September 26, 2011
Laura Marling, recent winner of the Best Female Solo Artist award at the 2011 Brit Awards, is one of the most successful and well-regarded musical acts in the UK. Unfortunately, her star hasn’t risen to that level on this side of the Atlantic yet. Hopefully, though, that will change with the release of her third full studio album, “A Creature I Don’t Know.”
Marling is a member of Britain’s “nu-folk” scene. She dabbles primarily in the indie folk genre and has worked closely with bands like Mumford & Sons and Noah and the Whale. Her low, light voice and subtle guitar-driven melodies are reminiscent of some of Britain and America’s finest folk artists of the past. She is a true musical genius for those who enjoy the guitar-driven, lyrical, singer-songwriter folk genre.
“Creature” is full of her beautiful songwriting and distinctive vocals, but has a different tone than her previous albums. The scope of it is bigger — the songs feature the backing band more prominently and she seems to have reached a new level of musical maturity. Marling is only 21 and is already on her third studio album. She has always seemed unnervingly mature, but now that maturity suits her age and the confidence brought by that beams through the music.
“Creature” ventures from the realms of bluegrass in “Sophia” to the sinister undertones of “The Beast” and hits everything in-between. The breadth of musical styles on “Creature” is what really illustrates Marling’s maturity. She has never been pigeonholed as an artist, but “Creature” represents a venture into new musical territories and finds the balance between the old and new in her writing.
Marling visited Chicago last Thursday on her tour to promote “Creature.” She packed Lincoln Hall with an enthusiastic crowd that happily sang along to popular songs such as “Rambling Man” and “Ghosts.”
You know you are listening to a real musician when her live set sounds like a vast improvement on her already phenomenal recorded material. Marling is one of those real artists. She and her band, all as talented as Marling herself, brought vibrancy to her songs and made them both completely familiar and utterly distinct at the same time.
Marling opened with “Rambling Man,” one of her most popular songs. Her spectacular husky vocals and the beautiful balance of the band instantly enraptured the crowd. “Rambling Man” isn’t exactly a toe-tapper — it opens with a soft guitar riff and some stunning musings by Marling. A few minutes in, though, the band joined Marling for a little upbeat flavor. Live, the song went from a beautiful solo to a euphoric jam when backing guitars, bass, drums and cello were added to mix. With this perfect opener, the crowd knew exactly what a ride they were in for.
Marling hit her stride from the first string plucked and the first chord sung, but her fourth song “Ghosts” was jubilant as she quipped to the audience singing along, “You’re really good.”
Concerts are, theoretically, meant to be perfect. They are rehearsed endlessly until perfected to the point of muscle memory. When this happens, though, it often feels like the concert loses some of its charm — any singular set is really just one more stop on a tour of the same show and it suddenly doesn’t feel special anymore. It turns into something robotic.
Mistakes and blunders should be a problem — but with Laura Marling, they were not. She laughed along with the crowd, at one point saying, “As you can probably tell, stage banter isn’t really my forte.” A brief reprieve between songs that featured an incredible moment of band-audience connection got her laughing uncontrollably. When she went to play “Sophia,” she laughed through the first stanzas before stopping to let it all out, then picked up where she left off.
Mistakes and admittances to imperfection might not sound like something good in a concert. On the contrary, they were reminders that Marling and her band were humans, susceptible to mistakes and just as liable to get caught laughing as we are. It was in those moments that it felt most like you were experiencing something alive and unique, not another cookie-cutter performance. Marling was real and she was really there and she was performing for you. Something about it was just simply amazing.
In the middle of the set, the backing band left the stage as Marling played several solo songs, including one of her most beautiful numbers, “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow),” a brand new untitled song, a new song from “Creature” and an excellent cover of Neil Young’s “Dance Dance Dance.”
The band came back to finish the concert off right with their new song “Sophia,” old favorite “I Speak Because I Can” and exciting new tune “All My Rage.” The crowd was begging for an encore, but unfortunately, Marling and co. have a no-encore policy. Before the final two songs, Marling stated how they get around this — if the audience is hoping for an encore, think of the penultimate song as the final one and then the final one as an encore. If not, then two more songs to the set and that’s it. Comical as this may have been, there was a distinct air of disappointment in the audience when the band really didn’t come back out for an additional performance.
The disappointment was short-lived, though. Encore or no encore, Marling played an incredible concert that all in the audience felt lucky to experience. Her talent, audible in her songs but even more obvious in person, is astounding and a wonder to see in person. She may not make it to America often enough, but the next time she does, don’t make the mistake of letting her pass you by. “A Creature I Don’t Know” is available on iTunes now for a mere, and well worth it, $7.99.
Record Label: Ribbon Music
Release Date: September 13, 2011
Best Tracks: “Salinas,” “The Beast,” “My Friends,” “Sophia,” “All My Rage”