Continuing with the Mercury Prize nominees brings me to I Speak Because I Can, the second album from British folk singer Laura Marling. The focus here is on contrast. As the album progresses, it alternates between more uptempo tunes and mellower, reflective songs. While this wouldn't normally be my kind of thing, I actually rather like it.
The fantastic opening track, “Devil’s Spoke” has a muscular, dark melody—a heady mix of acoustic guitar, banjo, bass and strings. It’s followed by “Made by Maid,” a gentle reflection on the cycle of life, with the singer finding a “babe” in the woods and taking him under her wing, only to have him blame her later for everything that goes wrong.
“Rambling Man” is a folksy number with mellow verses that highlight Marling’s gentle voice against energetic choruses of guitar and banjo. “Blackberry Stone” employs dramatic use of strings and guitar (as I sit here writing this, I’m watching the ocean, and this music is the perfect backdrop to the cloudy, gray day).
“Alpha Shallows” at first exudes a quiet drama from repetitive guitar chords, guitar plucking and other stringed instruments. Its darker melody is marked by higher peaks and valleys of relative quiet. “Goodbye England” is a gorgeous piece, with a warm tune reflecting on a love born in the snowy winter of the English countryside. “Hope in the Air” has a brooding piano melody that churns like a storm through this darker track.
Most of the closing tracks are pretty mellow, like tender “What He Wrote,” and the acoustic guitar-backed closing title track. “Darkness Descends” has a little more pep and is pretty upbeat, despite its title. Since I’m not a big folk listener, it’s hard to compare this to other acts. It reminds me a bit of Bat for Lashes, although not as strange.
Best: Devil’s Spoke, Alpha Shallows, Goodbye England, Rambling Man, Blackberry Stone