Laura Marling started out as a folk singer so early that, at 17, she was barred from one of her own shows for being under age. She played on the pavement instead, luminous under the streetlights. But as her reputation grew, so too did her audience, and at times she froze under the pressure. Recording a Jools Holland show at the BBC, she was pale-faced, her gaze fixed on the ground. Even last summer, with three albums and a Brit award under her belt, Marling played an entire festival set in Los Angeles with her head thrown back, unwilling or unable to engage with the crowd.
Her fourth album, "Once I Was an Eagle", marks a shift. The first half thrums with open-tuned steel guitars, the second is more playful, and both are shot through with big ideas. The first single, "Where Can I Go?", is a real barnstormer with a chirpy Hammond organ and gospel-tinged chorus. If Marling’s last album "A Creature I Don’t Know" saw her working out her place as a musician and a woman, this one suggests an artist coming into bloom, writing for the big stages she once feared. It’s a wonderful record. ~ Hazel Sheffield
Once I Was an Eagle, Virgin, May 27th
ROCK AT A GLANCE
Pet Shop Boys (album, June; European tour, June 3rd to Sept 6th). Pop’s most enduring duo have found new energy in their 50s—their new album, "Electric", arrives only nine months after "Elysium". Their last tour came close to pop-art perfection, and this one has the same designer, Es Devlin.
Leonard Cohen (Europe, June 18th to Aug 20th). A show as rewarding as his epic tour of 2008-10.
Iron & Wine (Europe, May 28th to June 5th). Texan folk-rocker whose new album is a gem.
Neil Young and Crazy Horse (Europe, June 2nd to Aug 19th). A protean performer joins up again with a powerhouse backing band. ~ HS