Intimate brilliance
Adrian Cross

19:02 8th March 2017

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"Oh we're playing the new record by the way," Laura Marling quips at the start of the sixth song of her promo set at HMV. Up to this point she has been statuesque, looking off beyond the audience, like a representation of Joan of Arc, quietly immolated, her eyes rimmed with dignified sadness. She is as reticent and uncompromising as ever.

This her sixth album, released on her own More Alarming Records label, is a more concentrated listen than previous pressings, the tunes not so initially obvious. You have to slowly draw the sting to release its gifts. The theme of Sempa Femina is women, the title taken from Virgil's epic poem the Aeneid. "Varium et mutabile semper femina." (A woman is always a fickle and changeable thing) and it's full of pithy inversions. "We love beauty 'cos it needs us to. It needs our drooling gaze," she sings on 'The Valley.'

Upstairs at a flagship store is an unpromising venue, but the acoustics are bright and do full justice to the subtle arrangements of the new material, from The Topolski Sisters harmonies to the bass of Nick Peany, which overtly walks a number of the songs, like the slouching beast on 'Wild Fire.' 'Soothing's glorious sensuality is brilliantly evoked and Short Movie's B-side 'Daisy' slots neatly into the set. "A woman alone is not a woman undone." Live Laura Marling creates an aural sanctity, the collective head of the selected audience cocked, like the mutt on the HMV gramophone. The rousing album finale 'Nothing, not nearly' completes an immaculate performance.

She has tried to distance herself from her nu-folk roots in recent years, but her musical wanderings are not as fickle as perhaps she'd like them to be. These songs are trademark Laura Marling, and like the best of folk minstrels, her voice makes arresting,now and again, ordinary melodies. Still shy of thirty but with an older soul's sense of life's impermanence, she remains a marvel. Sempa Laura.


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Photo: HMV