For artists who make their names on the back of a niche trend, it can be hard to claim staying power while remaining true to what made them a success in the first place. Laura Marling is a rare exception, having long outlasted the sudden wave of folk revival her first album emerged into twelve years ago.
In its exploration of womanhood and femininity, Song For Our Daughter (★★★★☆) picks up where Semper Femina, her last solo album, left off. This time, however, she gets more personal, pairing her reflections with a spare, intimate sound. Marling presents the album as a meditation on what it means to be a woman in our society, in our present time, and, according to her statement, kept coming back to the question, “How would I guide my daughter, arm her and prepare her for life and all of its nuance?”
To clear things up, the daughter she describes here is completely fictional. Rather than a real daughter, Marling has nodded towards Maya Angelou’s Letter to My Daughter as an inspiration for the title. Twelve years on from her first album, she has done a lot of growing and maturing, as most people would, and as with most journeys, the process was rarely straightforward or obvious. Having now found herself at the point where she has accumulated enough wisdom to think of passing it on, she has set out to make someone else’s path through the world a little easier. So while her daughter is entirely hypothetical, she is very much a presence on this album.
Sparse instrumentation is nothing new to Marling, but here she strips everything down to the barest basics. For most of the album her voice is framed only by acoustic guitar and light percussion, occasionally accented by strings and piano, allowing her lyrics to really hit home. Song For Our Daughter moves through many moods, from the breezy, detached “Strange Girl,” to the maudlin “Only the Strong,” to dreamy and pining tracks like “Hope We Meet Again.”
This restraint suits the tone of the album perfectly. As soothing and sentimental as the album is, it is far from saccharine. Soft-spoken as she is, Marling’s lyrics are often sharp and unambiguous. On the beautiful opening track, “Alexandra,” she pointedly sings, “I had to try, a fuck to give/Why should I die so you can live?” Apparently intended as a coda to Leonard Cohen’s “Alexandra Leaving,” the track leaves off with the question, “What did Alexandra know?” Left unsaid is what exactly she hopes to glean from the answer, but the implication is clear, attesting to her prowess as a storyteller.
When she does offer advice, as she does frequently, it often seems to come from a deeply world-weary place. The title track is especially poignant, going back and forth between addressing a listener who finds herself at some unspecified transition point and wondering out loud whether the advice will do her any good in the end. “You’ll ask yourself, ‘Did I want this at all?” The thought is a heavy one, but it’s surprisingly reassuring. Laura Marling’s honesty and the warm feeling of intimacy she is able to create with her songwriting make for one of the most comforting albums of the year so far.
Song For Our Daughter is available on most streaming services, including Spotify and Apple Music, and for sale on www.amazon.com.
These are challenging times for news organizations. And yet it’s crucial we stay active and provide vital resources and information to both our local readers and the world. So won’t you please take a moment and consider supporting Metro Weekly with a membership? For as little as $5 a month, you can help ensure Metro Weekly magazine and MetroWeekly.com remain free, viable resources as we provide the best, most diverse, culturally-resonant LGBTQ coverage in both the D.C. region and around the world. Memberships come with exclusive perks and discounts, your own personal digital delivery of each week’s magazine (and an archive), access to our Member's Lounge when it launches this fall, and exclusive members-only items like Metro Weekly Membership Mugs and Tote Bags! Check out all our membership levels here and please join us today!