Laura Marling has accomplished an awful lot at 23 — four strong albums, armloads of awards — but what’s more remarkable is the way the U.K. folksinger has gotten to this point. Marling’s songs dig well beyond the everyday, with each sung in a wise, dusky, brooding voice that always seems in control of its surroundings. She can perform ornate ballads about dashed romance, but Marling sounds equally comfortable posturing confidently in “Devil’s Resting Place,” whose words could just as easily fuel a stomping Jack White jam. (Seriously, he should cover it just to prove the point.)
The devil pops up several times in Once I Was an Eagle (out May 28), but Marling views him a peer as often as he’s a tormentor. He represents only one of the recurring threads woven into the fabric of a hypnotically pretty record that’s not easily unpacked: Its first four songs flow together so seamlessly, in word and sound, that they appear at first to belong to a single shimmering 16-minute relationship postmortem.
All of Marling’s vocal and guitar parts on Once I Was an Eagle were recorded in a single day — especially remarkable, given how frequently they remain in the spotlight throughout the album’s 63-minute running time. But the singer takes a longer and more important journey along the way: As these 16 subtly inventive songs unfold, her fearless, blood-and-guts earthiness makes room for warmth and openness that’s even more complex and rewarding.