Once I Was An Eagle by Laura Marling

Once I Was An Eagle is an intimate combination of Laura Marling's droning, sensitive—and slightly percussive—acoustic guitars, hauntingly beautiful vocals, straight-out-of-a-diary lyrics and an absolutely focused vision.  And, these days, an album like this is quite refreshing—and thank god it has found an audience that appreciates it.  The four song suite that seamlessly opens the album indicates that this 63 minute LP is a body of work, which Marling effortlessly rehearsed, calculated and probably wrote in a few inspired, all-nighter, songwriting sessions.  It's not quite spellbinding but it is very listenable.  If you're a "lyric guy or gal" there is a lot—and I mean a lot—to love over repeated listenings. 

At 23 years old, the singer/songstress has received plenty of comparisons to Joni Mitchell.  Why? Because she's a girl who sings well and feels at home playing her acoustic guitar in alternate tunings?  Is it because, like Joni, she's blue? The comparison is understandable—especially because Marling's voice has a Joni Mitchell-like cadence—but it's not really accurate.  In truth, L.M.'s idiosyncratic songwriting is much closer to that of N.D.—Nick Drake.  There's nothing onOnce I Was An Eagle that is so melodically complex and immediately compelling like the songs on Court And Spark or Blue.  But there are a bunch of moving, mini Pink Moon-like masterpieces.  There's also a gorgeous, dissonant "Interlude"—a very smart inclusion, by the way—that has Jack Nietsche written all over it.  It's a cool, early 70s incorporation.

If the brilliant Laura Marling has any issue with her songwriting, it is that she seems to compose melodies sort of like Bob Dylan writes words.  Her music is very intriguing and the odd melodic directions she takes do work, but the effect only lasts as long as you listen to it.  Even if one listens to Once I Was An Eagle 10 times in a row, attempting to sing back the melodies to any of Marling's songs is like trying to write down all of the lyrics to the first five songs off of Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited.  Her work is great, but not that memorable or distinct.  So, here's a precaution: Anyone expecting Laura Marling's musical compositions to be as astonishing as her voice and artistry will be disappointed.  The indistinguishability of her songwriting will be the one and only reason her music may move 200,000 people—instead of 2,000,000.  She has everything else within her mind, soul and voice box to become a real star.  

But chances are you will be more than happy with what Laura Marling has created on Once I Was An Eagle.  It's a beautiful album.  Despite any (accurate) criticisms of being monotonous, at 63 minutes, it never feels boring.  I would not be surprised if this album makes many critic's "end of the year top 10" lists.  Who knows, it may even make mine—like you care...

Once I Was An Eagle by Laura Marling