Lainie Marsh: Eclectic style suffused with mountain heart


Lainie Marsh
Bait & Tackle Records

Raised in West Virginia, educated at the Berklee College of Music, Lainie Marsh’s professional career has included grasping for the brass ring in Los Angeles before settling in Nashville come 1989. In Music City she’s attracted some enthusiastic supporters, including Emmylou Harris, who recorded Marsh’s “A Ways to Go” on her 1993 Cowgirl’s Prayer album. It was Harris, in fact, who described Marsh as being a cross between Rickie Lee Jones and Laura Nyro, and there’s much truth in that assessment. Vocally Marsh delivers a bit of Jones’s breathy, hipster swagger along with Nyro’s plaintive soulfulness, but these are mere touchstones of a style that also is suffused with mountain heart, bespeaking the roots of her raising. And right there is where The Hills Will Cradle Thee gets interesting.

Herein Marsh speaks of life as one who has traveled far from her point of origin, soaked up experiences she might not have had otherwise, as well as musical influences perhaps less accessible had she remained cloistered in the hills. Thus the grist for this album. You might not expect to run into a samba on a disc such as this, but in fact you will, in the deliberate, wry reading of “Little Samba Queen,” a tale about an Appalachian lass (wonder who?) who embraces Brazilian music and in doing so might even be a groundbreaker—“and so the old banjo can go/where it’s never been before,” Marsh coos in the swaying chorus as producer Larry Jefferies fashions a tasty, Jobim-like gut-string guitar solo behind her (to which Donny Allen and Ketch Secor add subdued commentaries of their own on mandolin and banjo, respectively). Which is to say The Hills Will Cradle tells many stories—especially the artist’s, as the songs and style reveal much about her musical wanderings over the years. The Rickie Lee Jones comparison is most acute on “Hey Ludwig,” a Nashville-meets-L.A. country amalgam with a moaning pedal steel courtesy Bucky Baxter and Allen’s delicately riffing mandolin dominating the soundscape, and Marsh coolly upbraiding the recalcitrant Classical giant after a party-hearty night together. Unresponsive to her entreaties, he is thus greeted with this snarky comeuppance: “Living up to your own myth/you overplayed the classic riff.” Ludwig Van described his life as “wretched existence,” and recent evidence indicated he may have died of lead, rather than arsenic, poisoning, but in Marsh’s song he sounds more like a victim of his own legend. Then there’s the irresistible sensuousness of “Misty Juniper,” a woozy, bluesy love song of distinctly urban and urbane character that Marsh caresses with a swooning, textured, yearning vocal sure to make the men in the audience weak in the knees. Quite impressive, all of these endeavors.

Marsh is onto weightier matters here, however, while making sure the music stays inventive and evocative. “A Ways to Go” may be dully described as a journal of personal growth, but its jaunty pace and a frisky arrangement heavy on acoustic guitar-banjo-thumping bass (with Neil Hermuth sprinkling in some honking harmonica here and there) could hardly be more jubilant. The bluesy, gypsy-tinged “Motherlode” is an unusually cheery chronicle of the singer’s abject abandonment by pretty much everyone on the planet and in the afterlife (“even mama don’t want my motherlode/sweet Jesus, even you won’t claim me/St. Peter says he will not take me/away from all this misery”)—even her “good coon dog” and “prize jumping frog” are outcasts. Later, though, she’s headed for higher spiritual ground in “Elijah’s Chariot,” a beauty of a low-key gospel workout with its ambiance enhanced by a shimmering guitar, a steady, rumbling organ and a silky smooth background chorus in service to Marsh’s assertive, but plaintive, testimony of rebirth and revival en route to the ultimate reward—“I know I’m not worthy, but I’m learnin’/ways of love…I want to go ridin’ on Elijah’s chariot…a fire’s burnin’ in my soul…,” she declares in this penultimate track that brings the journey full circle and sets up the benediction of “The Hills Will Cradle Thee,” a somber, delicate, folkish reflection (voice and acoustic guitar only) on the comforting embrace of home, from the cradle to the grave, a fact Marsh describes as a “gospel trust” between the people and the land. Lainie Marsh knows whereof she speaks. Would that more will heed her message.—David McGee

Lainie Marsh’s The Hills Will Cradle Thee is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
Logo Design: John Mendelsohn (
Website Design: Kieran McGee (
Staff Photographers: Audrey Harrod (Louisville, KY;, Alicia Zappier (New York)
Mailing Address: David McGee, 201 W. 85 St.—5B, New York, NY 10024