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Laura Marling - 'Devil's Spoke'

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Fraser McAlpine | 09:28 UK time, Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Laura Marling

When you're young, you want to be old. Old enough to do the things that grown-ups do, old enough to understand the complications of the world and old enough to be able to change all of it and make it better. There may even be a compelling argument to make that young people, once they're out of childhood, have the oldest minds of all, because once you get past a certain age - let's say 21, for argument's sake - all you want to do is stop the passage of time, to prevent your youthful vitality from ebbing away.

Laura Marling, while older than Pixie Lott and Daisy Dares You, is very young. Younger than N-Dubz, for example, and far too young to sound as experienced and time-worn as she does. She makes older people, such as myself, feel terribly silly and naive next to her ageless, timeless wisdom. I do not know that she is ageless or timeless or wise, but she sounds it. She has a voice like the ticking of a dusty grandfather clock that never loses so much as a micro-second. She sounds like someone opened a pantry door in some Jeeves and Wooster stately home and out came a pale, frosty maiden with a Medusa stare who put an end to all hijinks with one dark look, and then sang a song about the diptheria, which made Bertie gasp "crikey!" in a beaten whisper.

Plus she's a brunette now, which means hottie o'clock in my book.

(Here's the video. It's rural.)

Now I'm sure it's tempting to point out that I'm confusing the hand-me-down heritage of folk music with Laura's actual emotional growth. She's written a song which owes a debt to all the songs which owe a debt to Bob Dylan's 'It's Alright Ma (I'm Only Bleeding)', which itself owes a debt to some Scottish folk ballad or bluegrass stomper of the past. It's a lineage, and Laura speaks with the voice of everyone whose music has been given to her for safekeeping.

All of which is true, but she has to be able to deliver. There are thousands of earnest guitar pickin' minstrels who want to do what she does. They know how powerful this stuff can be. But for some reason it's young Laura who's been given the gift, the poise and the chunter-deadening stare. X-Boxes and McFlurrys wilt before her basilisk gaze, and pop bloggers take a turn for the over-dramatic. That's the power of her hoodoo.

There's a particularly striking line towards the end, about a frenzied encounter between the singer and a lover: "eye to eye, nose to nose," sings Laura, impassively "ripping off each other's clothes in a most peculiar way". And it's the awkwardness of that "peculiar way" which is interesting. For the life of me I cannot get the image of a girl in a straw barn, hoiking up a serf-like man's vest over his face, and leaving it there while she trips him up and puts a sock on his hand.

Because for all that she is timeless and wise in her songwriting and singing, Laura Marling is still a young woman, and kind of coy about sexual matters, even in story-song form. It might be a device to keep her out of step with the modern media's obsession with sexy young girls, in case anyone should confuse her with one of the Saturdays, but it speaks volumes.

Leather-bound volumes of an old almanac in a disused castle library, most likely.

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