Sprawled out in a 20-minute, five-song ‘I am woman’ opening medley, 23-year-old English folk prodigy Laura Marling sets the vindictively fragile bar high on her fourth reach, Once I Was an Eagle. It’s no Blue or Blonde on Blonde. Nor as richly cathartic as the Bill Callahan album in which its title nods to. But not mentioning any of those seminal albums would be to rob the young woman blind of the coming-of-love-age tapestry she’s woven like a cleric here, declaring immediately that she “will not be a victim of romance,” full open-tuning swooping into the record’s ethos very much like a majestic bird in confident flight: [LISTEN]

When we were in love (if we were)

When we were in love

I was an eagle

And you were a dove

These first five tracks are boundless, comparing a lover to a beast (“Take the Night Off“), a dreamer’s heart to the sea (“You Know“), defending the nature of cruelty (“Breath“) lulled out with a quick reed fluttering and capped with a palpitating defiance of anything love could ever try to draw blood with, assuring again, that she’s sheathed herself in a new skin on “Master Hunter:” [LISTEN]

I am a master hunter

I cured my skin

So nothing gets in

Nothing as hard as it tries

At this point, Marling should have cut two EPs and released them in tandem. Not that the consecutive 11 tracks are throwaways or so deviant from the narrative she’s built here that they don’t fit. Though they open up with themes of self-doubt, lost innocence and damned soul-searching a chapter that could both stand alone and compliment the record’s first 20 minutes like an anthology.

And they dance with different sonics, as well. There are Loretta Lynn twangs reminding audiences its narrator cannot be loved (“Undine“), Norah Jones, organ-dripped ballads going on about how it’s a “curse…to be sad at night,” (“Where Can I Go“) and ultimately about-facing and reconciling with whatever man or love has done her wrong, song-birding quintessential Joni-isms (“Little Bird“). While she flips again back into the open-tuning majesty at the end to call all of the poetry on the entire record “sleazy” (“Saved These Words“): [LISTEN]

Love’s not easy

Not always fun

Words are sleazy

My love is better done

My love is better done

Still, it’s a grand picture of some of the nuances of love not found nearly as potent in the songwriters that surround her, that sell infinitely more records than her, from Ellie Goulding to Adele even. And to attempt to carry a focused narrative on for an hour, wavering confidence and all, Once I Was an Eagle could just as easily be called I Am an Eagle. So here’s to another painfully talented singer-songwriter getting her heart broken and trying to make sense of it: