Laura Marling is much better known in London than in Highland Park, where until early December she'd been living for some of the last few years spent in Los Angeles. In England, the folk singer, 24, gets stopped a few times a day by fans who've connected with her earlier albums, each more accomplished than the next.
Three of those four have been nominated for the country's coveted Mercury Prize, which honors the year's best album from the United Kingdom and Ireland. They reveal a performer with an expert grasp of the three key disciplines required of a solo artist: writing, musicianship and singing. Her fantastic album "Once I Was an Eagle" was one of the best of 2013. Her new one, "Short Movie," was written while she lived in L.A., and a number of its songs are devoted to her experiences here.
"I just kind of liked the adventure of it, and I didn't leave. And I'd sold all my stuff at home as well, so I didn't have a home back in London," she told me over a beer at the Hermosillo in Highland Park a few days before she moved back to England.
She'd lived right around the corner from the bar for much of the time, in between a couple of American tours that saw her driving herself from gig to gig toting just a guitar like generations of folk singers before her. During that time, the British folk scene from which she'd sprung went worldwide, none more popular than kindred spirits Mumford & Sons (whose founder Marcus Mumford is Marling's ex-boyfriend).
She's done with Los Angeles, though, and doesn't foresee relocating here again any time soon. "I'm happy to go back," she said, adding that during some of her time in Highland Park, she'd been "kind of unemployed, and that's hard — living in L.A., essentially not having a job."
In that time, she wrote the songs that would become "Short Movie," her best album. It's the first to feature Marling moving from acoustic to electric guitars, and that shift has added a heft to her exquisitely crafted and performed songs. The best of them reflect time spent alone, explore past and present relationships with a thoughtfulness that suggests some mystical mix of Joni Mitchell, Jeff Buckley and Chrissie Hynde.
Marling teased the new songs at the Valley Performing Arts Center in early December during a fundraiser for radio station KCSN that also featured Sarah McLachlan. Performing on one day's rehearsal both solo and with a band that had just flown in from England, Marling and friends nonetheless moved through the songs with ease.
She opened on acoustic guitar, playing a few older songs before unveiling new work. The latter, including "Worship," "Feel Your Love" and "Warrior," made an immediate dent. "Strange," a brush-off to a middle-age man seemingly willing to throw away life with his wife and kids for a younger love, was a terse, insistent rebuke, one that moved with the strummed energy of Bob Dylan's "Mixed Up Confusion."
Another gorgeous teaser from "Short Movie" was a love song called "How Can I?"
"I wrote you a letter posted out of central L.A.," she sang, dotting lines on her acoustic guitar with John Fahey-esque ease. "Now if you ever come through here/ won't you come take me away?"
If that's a kiss-off to Los Angeles — and it sure sounds like one — we'll at least always have "Short Movie," which arrives March 15.