Laura Marling, diminutive, steely-eyed and sometimes appearing on stage in a trench coat, could've been dreamed up by England's version of Daniel Clowes as a comic antihero, trudging through the London fog when she's not drolly mumbling to herself about romantic failure.
That isn't to say that she's defined as some figment of male imagination; the same way she doggedly works her nylon-stringed guitar, she'd scratch her way out of the page before that happened.
Only 21, Marling is a folk musician highly decorated in her native England, most recently with an NME Award and her second Mercury Prize nomination that she eventually lost to PJ Harvey. As tough-shelled as her fellow countrywoman but with more of a measured eye, Marling casts her elliptical, dry-witted stories in sweeping, interlocking guitar movements played with gentle force.
For all the subtle humor in lines like "me and time, we go way back when," the songs on her third solo album, "A Creature I Don't Know," often wrestle with sorrow and disappointment and don't go down without a fight -- a very finely arranged one, like the choreographed blows in "Raging Bull."
And as far as her own imagination goes, she likes dreaming about women.
"I am from Salinas," she sings in the song named after John Steinbeck's California hometown, "where the women go forever and they never ever stop to ask why. My mother was a savior of six-foot of bad behavior, long, blond curly hair down to her thigh."
Speaking from her home in London, Marling explained her preoccupation. "I'm constantly fascinated by the idea of femininity. The idea of a woman being the most sexual being but then the nobody figure and also the idea of strength."
"The idea of this strong woman, living in a time and place like that," Marling continued, "where her role was very set and square but she was actually a strong, stern and stable being."
The same qualities could be assigned to Marling's music, though there doesn't seem to be much standing in her way. That wasn't always the case: For her first two albums, and especially 2010's "I Speak Because I Can," Marling had her own exacting expectations to meet.
"I didn't feel very confident in the studio with the last one," she said. "I was still struggling with feeling like I had something profound to say. I kept making the songs stand up to something, some kind of point."
"A Creature" was easy in comparison, recorded in 10 days earlier this year with Ethan Johns, the same producer who helmed "I Speak" and who has lent his meticulous touch to fellow troubadour Ray LaMontagne.
"It was like the dream I had of making music when I was a teenager," Marling said. Playing with the same band she's collaborated with for two years, they preserved the "lumps and bumps," chasing after a kind of symbiotic intensity best captured in the resonance between Marling's guitar and her voice that pitches and twines around it.
Johns saw the growth from her last album to "A Creature." "I think Laura is more confident in all aspects of her craft," he wrote in an email. "I love the writing and the performances on this new record. She's getting braver. I was happy every day recording with her and the band. It was a very open and inspiring session."
Given the circumstances, it might've been understandable if the sessions hadn't gone so well. After all, at the time of the March recording, Marling had only a few months distance from her breakup with longtime beau Marcus Mumford, of her one-time backing band Mumford & Sons.
But it's in keeping with her determined spirit to capture both the light and dark of her situation. "There's this idea that everybody has a choice always but we're not always in control of our actions," she said. "The most powerful feelings that humans go through -- desire, love and lust -- those are the things that can lead you to goodness and badness. We have both inside of us."
Where: Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood
When: Tuesday, doors open at 7:30 p.m.