It’s Sunday afternoon at Glastonbury 2011 and Laura Marling is taken aback by the titanic nature of the crowd gathered at the Pyramid stage basking in both the glorious sunshine and Marling’s mature beyond-her years-folk musings. “I’ve never seen this many people”, she states proving that as a musician her appeal appears to baffle her. Based on the evidence of fourth album 'A Creature I Don’t Know' it seems likely that Marling will have to get used to such a following.
Opening track 'The Muse' sounds not dissimilar to Hejiera era Joni Mitchell what with its extensive use of jazz chords, smattering of piano and intricate guitar lines, all topped with Marling’s half spoken half sung delivery. From the outset a definite progression in sound is evident for all to see, Marling’s foil throughout is Ethan Johns whose impressive production complements her wafer thin vocals.
Marling’s shape-shifting characterisation and ability to assume the roles of different personas is no more obvious than on the gorgeous 'Don’t Ask Me Why?' The 21 year-old is heard “Looking for answers in scared places” on a song which structurally would not have looked out of place on debut Alas, 'I Cannot Swim', but in doing so proves how far her songwriting has comes as a new air of authoritative musicianship which runs through its 4 minutes and indeed the whole of 'A Creature I Don’t Know'.
There will no doubt be those who attempt to convince themselves that Marling is speaking to a certain high profile ex-lover on 'The Beast' which opens with the singer enquiring “where did our love go- you will never know”, but to do so would be to remove the focus away from the Marling artistic endeavours. The menacing quality of the title is reflected in the nature of the song which, having started with another intimate solo guitar piece explodes, seeing Marling proclaiming about the beast that “tonight he lies with me” in a haze or neurosis and obsessive mistrust.
Perhaps it’s only 'My Friends' that doesn’t quite reach the dizzy heights of the other nine cuts on the record as it overcooks the same formula as 'The Beast' but fails to benefit from the same level of lyrical ambiguity, but this only a very minor negative.
Single Sophia recalls the classic electric folk of 'Fairport Convention', not least down to its marvellously infectious melody and is impeccably sequenced as it demonstrates another change of pace as the penultimate track.
Who knows how large next year’s festival crowds will be based on this evidence? 'A Creature I Don’t Know' is an album that which raises the bar for Marling and is destined to elevate her art to a whole new level of appreciation and to a new audience to boot. Based on this evidence Marling has the ability and more importantly the confidence and artistic curiosity to be making this beguiling concoction of folk and jazz for many years to come.