lauramarling_alascover.jpg Out of nowhere there seems to be a wealth of female singer-songwriters and performers. After the female musician went the way of the Dido, it’s been dominated by faceless and multi-national brands of artists like Norah Jones and Katie Melua. The underground has woken up though. They’ve started to rebel and the wealth of talent now immerging from the depths is being headed by Laura Marling. She’s got friends in the right places, having been a backing singer for such highly regarded acts as Noah & The Whale and the Mystery Jets.Branching out with her debut Alas, I Cannot Swim is a brave step. In this world of post-Winehouse and post-Nash everyone’s looking for a working class accent singing about boozing and boys. Marling successfully negotiates this by writing about the actual world. Her songs are drenched in the every day, but without the mundane meanderings of Nash or the theatricalities of Winehouse. I don’t want to carry on comparing them, but it’s just hard not to. What truly stands her out is her alt-folk approach to the music. It’s stripped back, barely rising above a solo acoustic guitar and some gentle strings. This allows you to concentrate on what she’s singing. Like Emmy The Great, the music is almost secondary to what she’s trying to say. The opening track of ‘Ghosts’ sets the scene perfectly; “He walked down a busy street/ Staring solely at his feet / Clutching pictures of past lovers at his side… Presents her with the pictures and says / These are just ghosts that broke my heart before I met you.” It’s an evocative imagine, the characters seem really alive. It’s a Polaroid snapshot of weird and wonderful meetings the world over. The grittiness of ‘Failure’ perfectly captures those feelings too: “He used to be the life and soul of everyone around / You'd never catch him looking up and never see him down but oh, la laa / He couldn’t raise a smile oh not for a while and he's a failure now”. The lyrics are the real highlight of this record. Marling’s voice is smooth yet emotive, dragging you into her world of people watching and observations.The major problem with this debut though is its inability to truly shake you up. It feels too long at 12 songs and its stripped back approach, towards the end, begins to feel quite similar to what’s gone before. After listening to the album a number of times I still struggle to name tracks and pick highlights. Nothing grabs the attention. It’s nice. It’s well made, well played and well written but lacks a spark, something to stand her out from the crowd. It shows promise, without a doubt, but next time around she might want to get her friends to give her a helping hand.69%LinksLaura Marling [official site] [myspace] [buy it]