An air of inquiry suffuses Laura Marling's third album, a mood of experimentation as cerebral as it is playful. Opening song The Muse is like nothing she has released before: swaggering and brassy, with her voice pulling angular shapes across saloon-jazz piano and tight brush drums. Salinas and Rest in the Bed are like miniature western movies, with spit and sawdust in the guitar and banjo lines, melodrama in the backing vocals and Marling squinting at a relentless sun as her characters glare fate in the face. As on last year's I Speak Because I Can, Marling can sound curiously dispassionate, slurring the chorus of Don't Ask Me Why, maintaining a studied cool at the start of Sophia as she murmurs: "Where I have been lately is no concern of yours." But when Sophia unfurls into a glowing country romp, the distance between her and us suddenly shrinks – and the feeling is exhilarating.
Another excellent album from the Chicago Queen of the Blues, this one from 1981 midway in her recording career which spanned from 1968 (aged 40) through to 2007, not far short of her eightieth birthday and her death. Koko Taylor is a remarkable blues singer with a very powerful voice edged with glass paper. She can "blow up a storm" or sing with deep emotion, as in her rendition of "I'd Rather Go Blind" (made popular in the UK by Rod Stewart). There are no Willie Dixon songs, nor covers of Muddy Waters or "the Wolf" on this album but that doesn't detract. This is an album of Chicago Blues performed by one of its greatest exponents along with her backing band which has supported her career for many years. They are a great team.