Laura Marling’s allure is wrapped up in both her prodigious talent and people’s incredulous reaction to it. Marling is an English singer-songwriter who is routinely described as wise beyond her years — precocious, a woman out of time. And then there are those who claim she’s the heir apparent to Joni Mitchell and Sandy Denny, both of whom she admires and whose music she grew up idolizing.
That’s all flattering, of course, but it’s also the blessing and the curse of being 22 years old and trying to contend with such high praise.
To her credit, Marling seems impervious to all the fuss about her age and the intense scrutiny she courted when she turned up on London’s folk scene at 16.
“To be honest, I really didn’t notice it in the beginning. I was very luckily naive to it all. I don’t think it affected me,” says Marling, who performs at Berklee Performance Center on Friday. “I was just doing it because it was something I enjoyed. I’m kind of grateful that I didn’t have any wider vision than that. It was tunnel vision back then.”
“Now as I get older,” she adds, “I’m more aware of eyes on me. I see things now that I can’t unsee.”
Seeing beyond her years was the impression Marling imparted as early as 2008, when she released her debut, “Alas, I Cannot Swim.” It was a startling introduction that presented Marling as a sage songwriter who unraveled adolescence with eloquence. Her voice, dry as scorched earth, suggested she had arrived wholly formed without any affectations.
Since then, Marling has steadily released two more albums, each elaborating subtly on the previous one. Marling’s latest, last year’s “A Creature I Don’t Know,” showed her gifts in full bloom, anchored by a band that lent the songs more of a rock and blues edge.
“I had a lot of fun thinking about arrangements and approaching it like a band. I suppose one has to challenge themselves,” she says. “I think I have that on my mind all the time, not just with music. I hate sitting still. I don’t think I’m particularly doing anything radical, but at the same time, I’m conscious that I can only do what I’m capable of.”
In concert, she cuts an imposing figure with her guitar, stone-faced but sincere about her craft.
“It was always fun, but it’s been a challenge,” she says of live performance. “The nerves were a part of that in the beginning, but they’re not really an issue now. When the nerves disappear, you’re left to concentrate on performing.”
An old soul with a cherubic face, Marling has the uncommon ability to cut across generations. Fans who are close to her age relate to the directness with which she addresses young love and disillusion. Meanwhile, their parents might hear glimmers of the ’60s folk revival and the ensuing Laurel Canyon scene.
Marling’s video for “New Romantic,” in which she is seated in a chair in a stark room and stares off camera while fingerpicking an acoustic guitar, is not that removed from old black-and-white footage of Joan Baez performing deadly serious ballads.
It turns out Marling has a clear reverence for the old masters. Her father was pivotal in shaping her taste in music. “There was a lot of Neil Young, Bob Dylan, and Joni Mitchell, which is pretty much the dream team,” she says.
As respected as she is back home, Marling is not as well known as her British contemporaries, at least not in the US. Yet she has set the songwriting standard for bands such as Mumford & Sons, whose frontman, Marcus Mumford, she once dated.
Adele speaks fondly of her, too. “She leaves me wanting more, and I’m always really curious about her songs,” she told BBC’s Newsbeat in 2010. “Sometimes I can relate to them, but sometimes I don’t understand.”
Marling relishes the mystique her songs engender. Sometimes her words ring heavy and true, like lines lifted from tattered love letters. The opening verse of “Goodbye England (Covered in Snow),” from 2010’s “I Speak Because I Can,” rolls off the tongue more like poetry than song lyrics:
You were so smart then in your jacket and coat
My softest red scarf was warming your throat
Winter was on us at the end of my nose
But I never love England more
Than when covered in snow
It’s no surprise, then, that fans often have misconceptions about Marling, that she’s a loner and eternally unhappy. That’s fine by her.
“I’m sure they do. I hope they do,” she says. “And I’m not sure I’d want to set them straight, either.”