Though not to everyone’s tastes, 2017’s Semper Femina has grown to become one of my favourite folk records of recent years. It’s a nuanced statement of identity, backed up with superb songwriting and affecting arrangements. However, its ambiguous tone and sometimes skeletal structures created a frigid sensation that proved isolating for certain listeners. Laura Marling’s latest studio album Song for Our Daughter is a far warmer affair, and this in itself will be a huge bonus for a portion of her fans.
The opening trio of tracks immediately proposes a different pace to its predecessor, which rarely ventured towards these buoyant folk-rock peaks. “Strange Girl” bounces along with an amusing swagger, enough to force Marling into a chuckle mid-song, whilst “Held Down” is one of the most driving tracks in her entire discography. In fact, the entire first half of Song for Our Daughter is tremendously strong. I’d go as far as to say that the opening five song stretch could be the greatest run of Marling’s career so far. It’s an utter joy to listen to. The record does lose a little of its momentum during the second half, where tracks like “Fortune” and “The End of The Affair” begin to blend. Hardly a huge blemish given the quality is generally retained, but it’s during this stage where the album starts feeling slightly less dynamic. As a result, it’s less compelling.
Despite the slightly lopsided tracklist, Song for Our Daughter is still another supremely strong release from one of the most spectacular talents in modern folk music. Marling has barely turned 30, yet she exudes the poise and wisdom of a veteran. It’s exhilarating to experience an artist hit such a stride, and it’s incredibly exciting to see what’s ahead. With each new release Marling displays supreme levels of craftsmanship whilst consistently incorporating an accessibility that propels her to the fringes of mainstream music. Song for Our Daughter is one of her most straightforward records to date, often revelling in simplicity, particularly with its deceivingly sparse arrangements. Everything is calculated, yet still so human and effortless. This may not be my favourite Laura Marling work, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it was someone else’s. Already, her catalogue of achievements is becoming so vast. She’s a generational talent, plain and simple.8 10
Favourite tracks // Held Down
Only the Strong
Few things in life seem certain these days, but at least Laura Marling can still be relied on to write thoughtful, tender odes that would as soon breathe new life into your heart as smack you firmly across the face. So it is with Song for Our Daughter. Robed in ever so tasteful shades of pinkish beige, bluish beige, and beige, the album is an often sublime Marling masterclass.
Nylon string guitar in hand, Marling brings her hallmark gifts for melody and lyricism to the table (fingers crossed and hope to die, false love at first sight, that kind of thing) but infuses them with a warmth I haven’t heard from her for a while. Where Bob Dylan has that acidity about him, Marling has a coolness that pervades a lot of the work she puts out. For all its beauty her previous album, Semper Femina, keeps you very much at arm’s length. It’s wonderful, but it’s a pretty specific tone.
This is an altogether cuddlier project. I think it may be the gentlest I’ve ever heard her. The record opens with a few relatively lively tracks – “Strange Girl” is especially good fun – but it settles into a more ruminative, fragile space. That’s where the album’s heart is, I think. The title track and “The End of the Affair” are especially lovely, her vocals on the latter achingly beautiful. There’s a bedtime sing-song quality to what goes on by the end. It’s all very safe, very nurturing.
I’m not quite head over heels. Of all things Song for Our Daughter actually reminds me most of Sweet Baby James by James Taylor, an album that showcases an artists’ finest qualities without quite being a knockout in its own right. You enjoy the time with the person as much as you do the things they’re playing. The music avoids the rawness of a Blood on the Tracks or On the Beach or Let England Shake, I dare say because that’s not the goal. As Alexandra Pollard put it in a recent interview with Marling, ‘There’s a candour, yes, but she’s also meticulous in maintaining her boundaries.’
It is said some people keep diaries in the expectation that they will one day be published and widely read. Song for Our Daughter leaves a similar impression – that of a meticulously filtered open book. Here are Laura Marling’s almost innermost thoughts, fit for immediate publication in a Faber & Faber anthology. It’s another tale from a peerless storyteller, and I feel like I’ve aged about ten years by the time it’s finished. In a good way.8 10
Favourite tracks // Song for Our Daughter
The End of the Affair
The news of an expedited Laura Marling album certainly made for a positive in the deluge of curveballs flowing out the first half of 2020. Off the back of 2017’s Semper Femina, Song For Our Daughter had a tough act to follow.
Starting as it means to go on, “Alexandra” builds from simple arrangement to warm, lush ensemble. Backing vocals fill out the track while a guitar slides away to the right, rich bass notes line the bottom and Marling’s vocal takes centre stage. “Held Down” sees the satisfying lyrical cadence we’ve seen entwined across her discography and “Strange Girl” embraces the catchy country folk that weaves its way throughout this album.
It’d be easy to continue through the tracklist and wax lyrical about it all too. “Blow By Blow” takes a turn with a central piano line, a novelty on a Marling album. “Fortune” has a beautifully picked guitar instrumental with a lovely chord progression. But the common theme throughout Song For Our Daughter is brilliant instrumental arrangements and warm vocals from both Marling herself and backing vocals that create sumptuous harmonies at points.
Closer “For You” leaves the listener with a cosy feeling, rounding out an album of breezy, warming music. Throughout her discography we’ve seen all sorts of emotions from Laura Marling, but I’ve thoroughly enjoyed the warmth, love and intimacy served up in this album and I can’t help but keep returning to it. It certainly has the potential to be some of the best music from 2020, and it certainly isn’t without competition.9 10
Favourite tracks // For You