Let’s not beat around the bush — folk/country music has a bad rap. People who claim that they listen to “all types of music” almost always shun folk/country music as a parenthetical exception.
Folk/country singles that chart on the Billboard Hot 100 have to amalgamate other genres, catering to mainstream audiences à la “Fearless” era Taylor Swift such as her song “You Belong With Me,” or meme-worthy content like Lil Nas X’s “Old Town Road.”
With a few purist exceptions — namely Little Big Town’s “Girl Crush” — the status quo is tainted by an unwarranted aversion to the genres. But on her eighth album “Song For Our Daughter,” Laura Marling proves that folk music isn’t just fodder for girl-and-her-guitar tropes, but possesses as much merit — if not, more — as the next pop, R&B, or rap album.
Inspired by Maya Angelou’s book “Letter to My Daughter,” Marling’s eighth album is poetic in its simplicity. The opening guitar strums have the warmth of the first rays of sunshine on “Alexandra” as Marling sings of a woman who “finds diamonds in the pain,” and by the bridge, an unwavering defiance coats her voice — “Why should I die / So you can live?”
“Held Down” compounds the sensation and makes it “feel infinite,” perfect for the freeway tunnel in “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” with its reverb, vocal layering, and need for affection as she sings “We all want to be held down.”
Where beauty fails, Marling fills in the gaps with other idiosyncrasies. Album standout “Strange Girl,” redolent of Joni Mitchell’s “In France…” with a tinge of Saint Etienne’s “Been So Long,” has the tongue-in-cheek comedy of dining-table palaver.
“Announce yourself a socialist to have something to defend,” she jokes before rolling her eyes (“Oh, young / Girl, please / Don’t bull—- me”).
On the opposite end of the spectrum is “Only The Strong” with the melancholia of a window pane speckled with rain, Marling backed up by a gospel-potent wall of hmm’s to make each lyric lilting and sublime:
Love is a sickness cured by time / Bruises all end up benign
Later tracks, on the other hand, have the stereotypical-folk haramatia of cringe-worthy kitsch. A chord progression away from “James Bond” spectacle, the piano ballad “Blow By Blow” finds Marling’s songwriting a bit less refined. Vague aphorisms (“Knowin’ thunder gives away what lightning tries to hide”) and trite blanket statements (“Sometimes the hardest thing to learn/ Is what you get from what you lose”) are only weighed down by the oblique melodrama.
“Fortune” suffers a similar fate, though by replacing the piano of Sarah McLachlan’s “When She Loved Me” with a guitar and no Disney movie to justify its saccharine taste.
These flaws don’t derail the album far from its polished minimalism though.
The “Stars”-esque background shimmering and rubato phrasing of “The End Of The Affair” create an atmosphere suspended among the cosmos.
“For You” continues course correction through its endearing sincerity (“What a miracle you are”), but the most mesmerizing part of the album, as with human beings themselves, is at its heart with “Song For Our Daughter.”
Living, Marling seems to realize, is difficult; the road is paved with lies (“Only to see if the path they set fails”), lust (“Clothes on the floor”), and laughter (“All of the bullshit that she might be told”).
But its saving grace has been in front of us before the album even started: the human connection, replacing Angelou’s titular “my” with “our.” All Marling has done is take us through “the words that we have lived again.”