Live | Laura Marling @ Colston Hall, Bristol

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“I had no identity… I was socially bankrupt,” said Laura Marling in a recent interview. The question of identity is an intriguing one in the case of the chameleonic Marling, who has recently released her sixth studio album, Semper Femina, at the frighteningly impressive age of 27.

She is mostly content to let her songs do the talking as she presents her latest touring show. She front-loads with material from Semper Femina and despite it being unfamiliar it’s the strongest portion of the performance. The arrangements are confidently sparse. The playing is relaxed but assured. Her band is excellent, especially backing vocalists the Topolski sisters, whose lines add depth without masking any of Marling’s own voice.

It’s a voice that has evolved into a singular asset. That clear, melodic quality has always been there but there is now a regular drop-off into mid-atlantic spoken word. It’s an affectation but a confident one, full of intent, from a songwriter who really wants you to listen to what she has to say.

Highlights of tonight’s set are ‘Don’t Pass Me By’ and ‘Always This Way’, adjacent cuts from the new album. “Twenty-five years, nothing to show for it”, Marling sings on the latter. It’s close to a humblebrag in the context of a world tour, but it underlines an ambition that has driven her an awful long way in a short career.

In terms of talent matching ambition, Marling’s ability as a songwriter has certainly accelerated in her last couple of albums. Tonight her older material, while still enjoyable, is notably less assured in its composition. Styrofoam is amusingly Mumfordesque (Mumfordic? Mumfordial?), betraying earlier influences. It’s in telling contrast to the new songs, which tonight sound most obviously like Marling herself, a quietly dazzling artist who, onstage at least, is forging the most enthralling of identities.

Words: Dan Farmer

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