Back in 2008 a painfully shy 18-year old Laura Marling wowed the crowd with an intimate set in Whelan’s. Three years on, she commands considerable respect. Both albums to date, Alas I Cannot Swim and I Speak Because I Can have earned her Mercury Prize nominations and she has been compared to an impressive roll call of musicians, such as Joni Mitchell and Leonard Cohen. It would be a fair assessment to call Laura Marling the current Queen of English folk.
Ahead of her third album, A Creature I Don’t Know (released in September), her rescheduled gig in Vicar Street is a mish-mash of old and new. A few years of touring has made Laura more confident. For all the media reports of her shyness and aloofness, she’s jovial and relaxed. Lucid, even. She claims she’s no good at stage banter but responds to every quip and cheer from the audience, even blessing an audience sneezer mid-song.
She interlaces some new songs into a medley to “get it over with” and we are given a glimpse of the album, which seems to be heading down a dusty country track. ‘Dont Ask Me Why’ gets another outing after she first played it on tour last year and, combined with her cover of Jackson C. Frank’s ‘Blues Run the Game’ (part of Jack White’s Third Man Records, 7-Inch Single Series), it feels as if she’s singing just to you. It’s ‘Ghosts’ from her first album, however, that elicits the best response, leaving her slightly bemused as the crowd sing wildly along.
A new song which deserves to be played outside of the medley is ‘Night After Night’, released as a trailer the day before; the video showing her wandering through an autumn-leaf strewn corridor of trees, her face not revealed until the end, like a build up to a haunting sort of ‘guess who’s back’. This song confirms her Cohen comparisons. The opening guitar in a sleepy waltz, reminiscent of ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’, her voice low, slowly building before rousing up like Joan Baez, followed by humming and gentle strumming of the guitar and falling away in a lovely Spanish-style riff. Then there are the lyrics, the kind you would strain to hear if you had to. Mysterious and romantic: “I count as no one/Hold nobody’s ear/ I showed you my hand once/ And you hit me in fear/I don’t stand for the devil /I don’t whisper to him /I stand on the mountains / And call people to hear.”
Here’s an artist who has found her place; she sings with such grace and conviction that she commands your attention and nothing feels contrived. Apparently, when Jack White first heard her, he couldn’t believe how young she was and that, “her voice sounded like the truth.” And that’s Marling’s skill. She could sing you the contents of your shopping list and it would still sound profound. “Milk, bread, eggs, and a packet of Hula Hoops,” she might utter, and you would think, “How eloquent.”
Photos: Damien McGlynn