British folksinger Laura Marling’s 2008 debut, Alas I Cannot Swim, showed more depth and maturity than one would expect from a (then) 18-year-old. Marling’s expressive, smoky voice and penchant for lyrical matter that didn’t reference clubbing landed her a well-earned Mercury Prize nomination, as well as a considerable amount of hype concerning her follow-up. Released in 2010, I Speak Because I Can delivers on nearly every level, upping both the production value (thanks to Ryan Adams and Kings of Leon producer Ethan Johns and fellow indie folk darlings Mumford & Sons) and the songwriting. Love, death, and heartbreak are hardly new subjects when it comes to folk music, but they refresh themselves so often in our lives that their relevance becomes tenfold with each new bite, scrape, or blow to the head, a notion that Marling explores with both guarded wisdom and elegant petulance on standout cuts like "Devil’s Spoke," "Made by Maid," "Rambling Man," and "Goodbye England." At its heart, I Speak Because I Can is a stoic, bare-bones singer/songwriter record, which makes the tastefully peppered bursts of explosive percussion, banjo, mandolin, and backing vocals from the Mumford gentlemen all the more effective and not just window dressing to cover up a cookie-cutter storefront. That said, it’s Marling’s enigmatic voice (think Florence & the Machine and Fiona Apple), clever phrasing (think Joni Mitchell), and adherence to the alternately warm and wintry vibe of late-'60s/early-'70s classic rock and folk (think Led Zeppelin III) that listeners will keep coming back to, regardless of the packaging.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger