LAURA MARLING at 99 Sudbury, Saturday (May 25), 8 pm. $25. LN, RT, SS. See listing.
Laura Marling is not an over-sharer. The English folksinger is careful about boundaries, often deflecting personal questions and letting her poetic, imagery-laden lyrics speak for themselves.
That makes her latest artistic decision unexpected: she's gone solo. Though her first three albums are attributed to her alone, she's always let her collaborators write their own parts.
But she recorded her fourth album, Once I Was An Eagle (Ribbon), with only the help of her long-time producer, Ethan Johns, and she's supporting it with an intimate acoustic tour: just her and her guitar.
That might surprise those who've caught one of her previous shows. She's often left the talking to her bandmates, fixing her gaze anywhere but on the audience. So what's changed?
"I'm that much older now," she says over the phone from "the trendiest hotel" in Portland. "When I was younger, I was unsure of myself. I wriggled in my skin. Now I'm not so self-aware."
Marling only just turned 23, but speaks with the ease of a musician who's given up trying to appease expectations. "I'm not going to push any boundaries I'm uncomfortable with," she says. "I love playing guitar and I love songwriting, but I don't love it to the extent that I feel the need to torture myself by it."
Take her recent decision to pack up and move to Los Angeles full-time, distancing herself from the much-hyped British folk scene that also bred groups like Mumford & Sons (her one-time backing band).
"I enjoy the shamelessness of it," she says. "There's a cool hippie art thing where people commit to being musicians or artists for a living, which is hard to do in England because it's so small. Aside from the Hollywood shit, which happens on the other side of town, they're all in it for the joy of playing music for the sake of it."
Her latest album is her most ambitious, laden with references to Greek mythology, existential ruminations and Bob Dylan quotes.
The risks pay off on Once I Was An Eagle. The first four songs, for example, form one ceaseless cycle, all in drop-C tuning. That straying from formula informed her decision to record it alone. "I could only cope with explaining it to one person," she quips.