For an artist so timid that she looks as if an audience of more than twenty would send her into a state of shock, these could prove to be testing times for Laura Marling. The London folk scene that she has been an integral part of has achieved critical acclaim through her own debut album and Noah & The Whale and commercial success in the shape of Mumford and Sons. One might reasonably expect I Speak Because I Can to do the same and Marling to face up to life in the public glare.
On listening to the record, however, it becomes clear that that gold disc may have to wait a while. Not because this isn’t an extremely fine record, but more because this is still the work of a subtle, reflective artist and one which has little to offer the world of daytime radio and TV soundtracks. What it does provide is an entry into a beautiful, at times eerie world. The term folk has been bandied around too much over recent years, usually at the first hint of an acoustic guitar, but Marling is an artist with a genuine feel for the tradition if not a connection.
What she does manage to do is mine a similar seam to the likes of June Tabor, Maddy Prior and Sandy Denny, finding a dark heart amongst the romanticism. Her voice is older beyond her tender years, dominant amongst the largely stripped back instrumentation. There’s scarcely an electronic sound to be heard here, the album instead a feast of strings, pianos and those acoustic guitars. Nor is she big on all encompassing choruses either, preferring to structure songs that take on whatever form they need to tell their story.
If I Speak Because I Can has a fault, it has to be said that once the mood is set it very much sticks to it. Have this playing in the background and there is a good chance that it will remain there, but then again this is an album designed to be experienced and enjoyed on an intimate level. Laura Marling has worked to create something quite magnificent and it’s not unreasonable to expect the listener to repay the compliment. Make the commitment and we promise you won’t regret it.