When Laura Marling announced that her follow-up to 2011’s A Creature I Don’t Know would be a mostly solo acoustic affair, one may have been forgiven for expecting a back-to-basics approach. As it happens, Once I Was An Eagle represents a bold, adventurous step forward that’s resulted in her most fulfilling work yet.
Thrillingly, it begins with a seven-song, near-half-hour-investigating long suite which takes in late-night singer-songwriter fare, nods to devotional raga and, in Devil’s Resting Place, a tempestuous ending. Elsewhere, on Master Hunter, Marling’s sneering phrasing calls to mind Rolling Thunder-era Dylan, which she coyly acknowledges by quoting the man himself. Lyrically, there’s a steely sense of self-preservation evident, as Marling refuses to be “a victim of romance”, shooting down hippies who “stomp empty-footed upon all that’s good and pure in the world”.
That astonishing half-hour seems to hang together as an album perfectly on its own; what’s remarkable is that, after a palette-cleansing instrumental, Interlude, Marling serves up a further eight songs of comparable vintage. From the understated charm of Where Can I Go? to the sublime Little Bird, it’s apparent what a singular, compelling artist Marling has become.