Semper Femina, a Latin phrase borrowed from Virgil translating roughly to "always a woman," was tattooed on Laura Marling's body long before it became the title of her sixth album. Like her adopted motto, this striking set gives the impression of a concept that was left to simmer a while before revealing itself in song. Initially intended as an exercise in writing about women from a male's perspective, Marling soon found that the feelings she was expressing were, in reality, her own, and Semper Femina became the work of a woman writing intimately about women. Crafted in her adopted home of Los Angeles and produced by Blake Mills (Alabama Shakes, Jim James), it's a wonder of musical subtlety, backing off from the cinematic electric desert-scapes of 2015's Short Movie and approaching the acoustic delicacy of earlier albums from a newfound perspective. A classic confessional songwriter, the British expat has found here the perfect balance of wounded introspection and confident observation, getting to the core of the matter with poetic candor on standouts like "The Valley" and the masterful "Next Time," the latter of which is easily one of the strongest cuts of her career. As with much of Marling's work, especially during her California period, the ghost of Joni Mitchell -- another transplanted flower who bloomed in Laurel Canyon -- can be heard on the richly melodic yet beautifully sparse fingerpicked ballad "Noell." Elsewhere, Marling's bluesy half-spoken incantations propel smart slow-burners like "Wild Fire" and album-closer "Nothing Not Nearly," whose unique coda quotes Bach's iconic "Cello Suite No. 1" before literally closing the studio door and fading out to birdsong. Having entered the limelight early, the 27-year-old singer/songwriter has now settled into a comfortable groove to on this finely honed career highlight.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger