LAURA MARLING, Roundhouse – Evening Standard, 20 March 2017

During a spell in which every member of her band was encouraged to share a story or make an announcement, Laura Marling’s drummer revealed that earlier in the day, a passing pigeon had relieved itself into his coffee. As ever in the world of the preturnaturally composed singer-songwriter, any troubles happens far from the stage. In the build-up to the release of her latest album, Semper Femina, the Berkshire 27-year-old has talked of experiencing a midlife crisis in her mid-twenties, giving up music to try being a Los Angeles yoga teacher, and being rejected from a residential poetry course in upstate New York.

Quiet and static on a flower-strewn stage at the Roundhouse, the closest she came to any admission of weakness here was a surprising lyric in the shuffling, understated new song Always This Way: “25 years and nothing to show for it, nothing of any weight.” Perhaps this regularly Mercury Prize-nominated Brit Award winner secretly longs for a crowdpleasing hit single, but as things stand she was free to construct a well-paced setlist from a six album back catalogue free of obligatory audience favourites.

Not many artists could keep the fans onside when beginning a show with six new songs on the trot. However Semper Femina (a snippet of a Virgil quote which translates as “Always a woman”) contains some of Marling’s most accessible material, including Soothing, which revisits the trip hop groove of early Portishead, and the three-way female harmonies of The Valley. On Wild Fire this LA resident approached an American accent, threw in a rare F-word and attained a rich soulfulness.

During a central solo spell, her voice did great things, vaulting and coiling, stretching and shrinking back during an extraordinary I Speak Because I Can. When joined by sibling backing singers Emma and Tamsin Topolski, the effect was frequently transcendent.

A long-term avoider of encores, she did find some space for fun towards the end with Sophia, which strode slowly towards a magnificent, energetic climax, and with Darkness Descends, which was actually light and breezy. They were as close as she ever comes to cutting loose, moments when she could be loved rather than admired.