Laura Marling, fresh off of a Mercury Prize nomination at the age of 20 for 2010’s I Speak Because I Can, knows that with critical acclaim comes great expectation. Her third studio album, the loose and languid A Creature I Don’t Know, both edifies her old-soul persona and diffuses it, offering up 11 slabs of retro Anglophile folk that manages to both push the envelope and seal it shut. Marling's vocal affectations, which are ultimately charming despite their frequent Joni Mitchell-isms, are far more apparent this time around, especially on the album’s first three tracks, all of which showcase a fervent singer/songwriter with a fiercely independent spirit who’s tempered by a strong familiarity with her parents’ record collection. That said, it’s a syllabus that’s been ingested and honed rather than spit out and glossed over, and most of the time, Marling makes a great case for all of those Sandy Denny and Linda Thompson comparisons. Brimming with life and lush with spanish guitar, rolling banjos, summer of love chord changes, and moor-bound tales of love gone bad, A Creature I Don’t Know is ultimately triumphant, due in great part to Marling's magnificent codeine voice, which sounds like it’s been pouring out of the radio for five decades, especially on stand-out cuts like “Sophia,” “The Beast,” “My Friends,” and “All My Rage.” Three albums in, the young singer/songwriter sounds brave and confident yet breakable and guarded, and while A Creature I Don’t Know may not be the bolt from the blue fans and critics were hoping for, it’s most certainly storm born.
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