Billie Marten is this year’s singer-songwriter that you never knew you needed (or you did know if you’ve seen us banging on about her at every possible opportunity). The Yorkshire-born guitarist caught the attention of the music faithful with the spellbinding Unaware, and earlier this year – as she was fresh from a train to London on a school night – we witnessed her hook listeners twice her age with a heart-rending performance. Amid the weight of expectation – not to mention exams – Marten has completed a spectacular debut album. This is music for wanderers, for lovers and for those who thought that folk music started with Joni Mitchell and ended with Ed Sheeran.
Writing of Blues and Yellows is about as traditional an acoustic folk album as you’re likely to find in 2016. There are no bombastic electronic additions, no epic strings – in fact, the album is devoid of the artificial bolstering found on the likes of James Bay and Jake Bugg’s efforts. It’s not country music, but countryside music.
Marten’s voice is the centrepiece of these wholesome songs. Her tone is almost identical to that of fellow folk singer, Lucy Rose. However, there is an ambiguity to her lyrics (“How I wish that I was lionhearted / And if you talk to me I don’t reply / I am way over here on the other side”) and a strange mixture of innocence and maturity that Rose does not possess. You can hear her innocence in the way she nuzzles you with her words in La Lune, and her maturity in Teeth, where she ruminates “we all have our doubts on love”.
This circle of ambiguity and affection, innocence and maturity, exists throughout the album, and is allowed to settle like morning dew on woodland leaves. If Marten’s words are the food that will keep you coming back, then the music is undoubtedly the fragrance that completes the experience. Rustic, earthy acoustics are Marten’s forte, and her arrangements are more than the sum of their parts: Heavy Weather swells with its rural twangs; Emily creeps upon you with barbarous thumps; Milk & Honey may hide a stern message but it exudes youth with its summery, up-tempo melody; and Bird could draw tears from the eyes, such is the delicate emotion released by the combination of Carole King-like piano chords and gripping lyrics of friendship, hope and sorrow.
Marten has come as close to perfection as it is possible to get with a debut folk album from a contemporary singer-songwriter – and that’s before you consider the fact that she is 17 years old. The most demanding of folk followers may find Marten’s music too close to her influences, Laura Marling and John Martyn. Purists could argue the assistance of producers Rich Cooper and Cam Blackwood means she cannot be called a virtuoso yet – but this no more than can be said for others in her position. The songs on Writing of Blues and Yellows never overstay their welcome: it is an album of veracious expression and cursive patterns. Safe to say, then that this young Ms Marten, with her enchanting words and rustic guitar riffs, will leave you in awe.