Laura Marling's recent history is a public one, so requires a brief recap only for those who inhabit planet chart. Discovered at the tender age of sixteen through MySpace, she initially worked with Noah & The Whale, whose Charlie Fink produced her first album, 2008's Mercury Nominated Alas, I Cannot Swim. Fink duly became her ex significant other (Replaced by Marcus Mumford of Mumford & Sons) and proceeded to base his band's second album The First Days of Spring on the couple's break up, sieving every last dolorous pebble of heartbreak through angst ridden filters. The results paradoxically transformed their standing overnight from twonky nitwits into serious artists to be reckoned with. Hey ho.
In interviews Ms.Marling has made it very clear that she wishes the salacious gossips would disappear up their own bouzoukis, but in the mundanity of the folk world you suspect her pair bonding with the mandolin-toting Mumford has created a relationship perceived somewhat like that of the young Kennedy's; bright, beautiful and full of eternal promise. Certainly his own band are guilty of producing one of last year's best and most original British albums in Sigh No More, and although Alas, I Cannot Swim eventually succumbed in the Mercury stakes to Elbow, it contained more than enough promise to enable critics to file her newest release under 'Highly anticipated'.
Whether her audience believe it disappoints will be largely down to how they handle her obvious songwriting progression; the gap between sixteen and twenty as the singer has said is like a chasm in anyone's life. I Speak Because I Can accordingly finds her moving deftly from the politics of the self to that of gender, pondering femininity but not from a strictly feminist point of view. Given that either of these words would appear to be strictly career limiting for all but a few female artists, it's a logical but inestimably brave step for the fledgling career of a woman so young.
Inevitably where the instrumental backdrop is frequently little more than a gently sublime acoustic guitar the listener's attention spends more time focussing on the voice and the words; of the former I'd defy anyone to blindfold-guess that a tone with such richness, character and idiosyncrasy could belong to a woman who in the real world would barely have started university. Of the latter there is noticeably more by way of depth this time round. Slow burning opener 'Devil's Spoke', with banjo whirling furiously in the background even finds Marling indulging in the sins of the flesh, her alter-ego lustfully mouthing 'Eye to eye/Nose to nose/Ripping off each other's clothes'.
Elsewhere there is affection bordering on sentimentality on 'Goodbye England (Covered In Snow)', the singer proclaiming a love for our sceptred isle in 'I will come back here/Bring me back when I'm old/I want to lay here/forever in the cold'. Marling proceeds to turn the song into an eskimo kiss for her homeland, and with a sense of irony creates I Speak Because I Can's warmest moment. If the heart of that woman is overflowing with affection, that of the title's tracks narrator is smothered in bitterness; the opening line is the starkly matter-of-fact 'My husband left me last night' before spitting out a bitter verdict on the ethos of an abruptly terminated marriage: 'I cooked the meals while he got the life'.
If all of this is conveying the impression that 'I Speak Because I Can' is like a musical version of The Female Eunuch being played by a Sandy Denny tribute act, then please forgive me. In fact it's a record full of an energy and insight that's practically unique in modern entertainment circles. Whether this will convince any of the X-Factor crowd to turn away from the dark side is highly debatable, but the rewards for them are there, along with the listening challenge.