Salinas by Laura Marling
The intrigue of this melody comes mainly from the way it serves the words. There is one long melody that keeps repeating and does not go through much transformation. The range is kept mainly to a fifth, which is a rather small range for a melody of this length and significance. The melody would be much less intriguing if words were not set to it. Since there are indeed words to it- and the words certainly grasp the attention- it is difficult to call this melody unsuccessful. It does what it has to do and follows a nice vocal inflection with no points of awkwardness or distaste. There were times when breaking away from the four bar phrases and adding different rhythms would have been nice, but it would’ve had to work just as well with the words. It is singable, but not necessarily a melody to get attached to. The melody eventually dissolves into a more improvisational feel by the end, which works with how the rest of the song developed. However, there could have been more melodic variety to match the growth of the song. Again, the melody serves the singer well, as a folk-like song should.
This category seems to be the weak spot of the folk genre, but Marling does not fall into any traps that other folk musicians have always tripped over. She took a path of her own and used some unique harmonies while still maintaining a feel of simplicity. The most prominent place of harmonic creativity is on the repeated line “will I ever see heaven again”, which is the most important line in my opinion. Marling does a great job in bringing this line out by adding a non-chord tone, a b6, into the accompaniment that implies a minor IV chord. This borrowed chord is in a wonderful spot in the music and connects the dots from one tonic chord to the next. Tonic is used abundantly here, which is fine for a overall mood but still needed a sort of jolting separation like this. With the large use of tonic, it makes sense not to modulate, but there was certainly room for other chords that deviate from tonic in order to create a bigger sense of mystery that this piece could have used. I know that Marling is capable of this as I have heard it in some her other songs. The I-bVII-IV-I progression has been done in this same way in popular music, and I feel like Marling could have expanded on it a bit more while still keeping the melody in tact. The tonic chord was dressed up nicely with the subdominant in-between phrases, which was my personal favorite moment of harmony. I also thought the scarce use of V worked well. Dominant chords have such a strong inflection to tonic, which was certainly not needed with the majority of piece. When it did come, it was a very strong presence that led well into a new section.
The timbre of this piece is really what makes it worthwhile to listen to. It is the driving force behind the piece, responsible for the growth and the power that this music has. What Marling does with the instrumentation sets herself apart from other folk artists. An easy parallel can be made between her and Bob Dylan. Just by listening to this one song, I can tell that the influence that Dylan has on her is remarkable. It should come to no surprise that Dylan, on average, wrote the more intriguing melodies of the two. However, Marling isn’t necessarily copying her influences, like many modern musicians seem to do. She alludes to them, but brings her own musicianship to the table, and that is where we get such effective timbres in her music. This piece in particular uses each instrument to create and additive texture building to a climax. I especially enjoyed the use of mandolin. This was unexpected at the beginning of the piece, but well received when it was flushed out. It changed from a nice album filler to a strong and emotive piece on its own. The only questionable decision was the addition of the drum beat and the particular time it started. First of all, I thought that the drums should have waited longer to come in, since it could have given the piece even more level higher of intensity near the very end rather than adding to the already existing intensity. I also thought the beat was a little too repetitive and, dare I say it, country-like. It took away just a bit from the original feeling of the piece, but it was not abhorrent.
Marling seems to be slowly catching on with mainstream listeners, and she is already influencing many singer/songwriters today. I feel like her best is yet to come. As of now, this piece has not raised itself beyond the other album tracks, and I do not believe that it is Marling’s best work. Still, it has enough power behind it to make any musical teenage girl pick up a guitar and just start playing.
Final Score: 115/180