Like all the most interesting artists, Laura Marling is in a state of constant flux. In the nine years since the release of her debut album, Alas I Cannot Swim, the singer-songwriter has journeyed from acoustic folk to jazzy Joni-isms and modal Led Zep III jams.
On 2015’s Short Movie, she went electric and began to produce herself, but for her sixth album, the Latin-titled Semper Femina (“Always a woman”), Marling has enlisted Blake Mills to co-produce. The result is her most wide-ranging record, showcasing more rhythmic and soulful styles than she has before.
Opener Soothing sees Marling take on the sultry, string-drenched funk of Serge Gainsbourg’s Histoire De Melody Nelson, complete with two basses, twinkling zither and what sounds like multi-tracked mbira. Elsewhere, Wild Fire evokes classic soul with its stately pace and doubled Wurlitzers, Marling singing of “getting away with who you’re trying to be”, while Don’t Pass Me By, driven by a malfunctioning drum machine and sand-dried electric guitar, is like Calexico produced by T Bone Burnett.
The second half of Semper Femina looks back on Marling’s past, both musically and in real life, as she recalls her Hampshire childhood on the acoustic Wild Once, which features Marling’s English accent peeking joyfully through her usual Transatlantic tones.
“Love waits for no-one,” Marling sings on the rapid-fire country-blues of closer Nothing, Not Nearly, and the songwriter’s muse is similarly impatient. Caught halfway between London and Los Angeles, Marling is now also midway between her indie-folk routes and a questing, experimental Americana stew of rock, soul and funk. Where her journey will take her next is hard to predict, but Semper Femina is a mighty fine milestone along the way.
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