Laura Marling’s songs are rather like roses: Lovely to behold, but capable of drawing blood if you aren’t careful.
The British songstress offered a full bouquet of her work to an adoring Kessler Theater crowd Sunday, harvested from the breadth of her catalog, reaching all the way back to her 2008 debut, Alas I Cannot Swim.
Inside Marling’s garden, love is many things — a struggle; a gamble; something sought and something to which a person acquiesces.
The myriad forms of that feeling, like a beam of light glimpsed through a prism, make up the vivid, bristling folk songs she performed with little more than a series of acoustic guitars and her scuffed, lovely alto.
Opening with Howl and Walk Alone, both culled from her fifth and most recent LP, Short Movie, the 25-year-old Marling moved through her set list with brisk purpose — she was on stage for all of 65 minutes.
Striking a series of fascinating poses — the merciless I Am a Master Hunter; the searing Bleed Me Dry; the biting David (with its memorable line “A wasted life is a long regret”) — Marling masterfully moved through moods.
Her face, framed by her closely cropped blonde hair, was firmly fixed behind the microphone, and stood in sharp contrast to her hands, busily working the strings of her guitars.
Yet she made the concise performance feel somewhat expansive, thanks to a few asides, including a poignant recollection of her late friend, Rob.
Noting her 2013 performance at the same venue was the last time she saw him alive, she remarked, “I forgot that I’d seen him here until I turned up here [today].”
Marling mixed in a couple of smart covers — Bert Jansch’s Courting Blues and Townes Van Zandt’s For the Sake of the Song — illustrating her creative lineage without overshadowing her own work.
“Should you choose/To love anyone/Anytime soon/Then I save these words for you,” Marling sang, late in the evening, the lyrical equivalent of a thorn’s prick drawing you away from a rose’s immaculate beauty.
Laura Marling’s tough, harrowing, sensitive and beautiful music might have blossomed briefly Sunday, but left the fortunate few gathered inside the Kessler bathing in its lingering fragrance.
Preston Jones, 817-390-7713