March Album Review with Laura Marling, Courtney Barnett and Brandi Carlile

Laura Marling is only 25, yet Short Movie is her fifth album, none of them less than very impressive. She is arguably the most talented British "popular song" artist since David Bowie, he said controversially. This album follows a spell Marling spent living in the USA, and on some of the songs her accent has certainly changed from the Home Counties tones we are used to. It is also a tougher, more rock influenced album than anything she has done previously, more electric guitars, and one track that sounds remarkably like Sultans of Swing by Dire Straits!

Other tracks have more of her previous John Martyn / Nick Drake /Joni Mitchell influenced vibe, whilst her lyrics are both emotionally open at times and direct, even harsh at others, and continue to be an integral part of her talent and appeal. There are 13 songs here, and some live up to her highest standards, yet I just have a slight feeling of disappointment. After three listens, not many are sticking in my head - it feels weaker melodically in total compared to previous albums. That's not to say it isn't a very fine album again, but it is not her masterpiece, which I'm sure one day will arrive. 8.5/10.

Courtney Barnett is an Australian singer songwriter, a year or so older than Marling, but Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit is her first album. Her style is very different to Marling's but it does however share one thing in common - both women are brilliant lyricists.

Many of her songs come over like short stories set to music, with her distinctive half spoken, half sung style (think Lou Reed, Mark E Smith of The Fall or perhaps Patti Smith) emphasising the words. Some are hilarious, others sad, as she sings about her generation making their way in the (Australian) world. Pedestrian at Best for instance explains why she would be a really bad girlfriend. "Give me all your money and I'll make some origami, honey" is one favourite of mine (she writes lines that scan superbly if you're into that sort of thing). The music is guitar driven, britpop influenced indie, plenty of meaty guitar riffs plus a couple of more acoustic numbers - it suits the lyrics well. Not all the songs have great tunes but overall this is a tremendous debut, and Barrett already sounds like nobody else - establishing such a clear identity on your debut album is very impressive too.  Not sure whether the novelty factor will wear off in time but for the moment, a 9/10.

And competing our roster of three female singer songwriters from three different continents, we have Brandi Carlile, born in Washington State, USA. The Firewatcher's Daughter is her latest work. You may know her song The Story - one of the best songs and performances of recent decades in my opinion. (If you haven't heard it, see below, as well as a track from this album - "The Eye"). She has an incredible rock / blues / country voice, and on this album she has gone for a more stripped back 'Americana' feel than her previous more mainstream rock sound. It seems to have worked well, based on reviews and indeed a place for the album in the Billboard charts. But never mind Billboard, Carlile of course has been dying to know what Spend Matters thinks of it! And the answer is - yes, we like it a lot. Some of the tracks fall on the country side of Americana, a couple of others sounds like bar room jams rather than thought out album tracks, but the simple arrangements (the album was recorded "almost live") highlight the tuneful songs and her great voice. 8/10


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