Lainie Marsh
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Lainie Marsh


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My first time through The Hills Will Cradle Thee confirmed everything printed on the promo sheet that accompanied it. Lainie Marsh is one hell of a songwriter, can wrap herself around a variety of vocal styles and knows what she's doing. She is Appalachian, something which is beginning once again to mean something to those of us who once understood and those who are now learning. She understands how a song works and how to make it work. She is an East Coast Maria Muldaur and a West Coast Loretta Lynn with a smidge of Judy Canova thrown in for good measure. In other words, everything that I thought this album was going to be, it's not, and that is turning out to be a very good thing.

What I expected was, well, Appalachian music. The title of the album, The Hills Will Cradle Thee, bespeaks of backwoods life and its attachment to it. The only track I recognized, Dream of a Miner's Child, is a traditional hillbilly favorite and to drive that conception (or misconception) home, there is even a picture of Marsh's grandfather and two other miners taken at a mine in Whipple, West Virginia in 1929. The other song titles lean in the same direction?Banjo Moon, Motherlode, Elijah's Chariot. So imagine my surprise when I put on the CD and the first track is the upbeat, smooth and newgrassy Jalopy on which Marsh croons "My baby's got jalopy/It's always broken down/My baby's got jalopy/It's always broken down/So how's my pretty baby/Gonna take a girl to town" over this guitar/mandolin background worthy of Hot Rize on an old-timey kick. Second verse, when the band kicks in, it gets even smoother and you get sucked in and comfortable, especially when she throws in a light chuckle for effect. It's not Appalachian?at least, what I consider Appalachian. What it is is personal and Lainie Marsh knows how to sell it.

Sell that and the vampish Motherlode and the country-ish ballad Banjo Moon, a musical reflection helped along by a lone and mournful fiddle, and Hey Ludwig, a song I have a hard time analyzing because Bucky Baxter's pedal steel stops me cold every time and I'm not even sure what kind of music it is. I guess it is Lainie Marsh music. I mean, this lady has boatloads of talent and can write and sing her way almost anywhere, I'd imagine. According to the promo sheet, Emmylou Harris evidently thinks so and who am I to argue with her, for chrissake.

One reason I know Marsh is that good, outside of the fact that I keep returning to the album after my third beer, is her version of Dream of a Miner's Child. I have heard the song numerous times, most recently on Rita Hosking's excellent Silver Stream album, but never like Marsh does it. Hosking pretty much nailed it down?her version an old upbeat country hoedown you would expect on thirties and forties radio. Marsh, however, turns it into a dark plea, slow and vaunting. It is background for film noir. Both versions are primo, but they live on different planets.

That comment about Judy Canova? It may have been spurred by the pictures of Marsh on the inner jacket, her long and wavy hair a modern version of a forties hairdo, or so it seems to me. Put a flower in it and you would swear you were in Hawaii. More than that, though, I have this feeling that Lainie Marsh, like Canova, has a lot of room inside. Her voice is solid but flexible, her songwriting talents undeniable and, as far as I can see, her future bright. The more I hear this, the more I want to see her live. This is a fine album and I dig the music, but I have this weird feeling that if Marsh ever let herself go, she would knock my socks off. If you get a chance, I suggest you not miss it. I'll be the old fart on the right side of the stage with my right ear (my good one) planted against the PA speakers. When I hear Lainie Marsh, I think I want to hear it up front and personal.

- Frank Gutch, Jr.

"The Bluegrass Special"

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 - David McGee

"Maverick Magazine"

In upcoming August 2010 issue - Maverick Magazine, UK

"Folk Roots/Folk Branches"

May 6, 2010

Just last week, I wrote that Natalie Merchant’s Leave Your Sleep was an early candidate for my album of the year. My early candidate for discovery of the year is Lainie Marsh, a singer and songwriter whose work on her debut album, The Hills Will Cradle Thee, is steeped in Appalachian authenticity – she grew up in West Virginia – and blended with the sophistication and imagination of a Berklee College of Music education and, quite obviously, a craftsperson’s dedication to her art.

All of those elements are revealed in “Jalopy,” the opening track, a timeless song that bears Marsh’s 2008 copyright, but that sounds like it could have been a stringband tune or country blues song from the 1920s or ‘30s or any time since. In addition to Marsh’s voice, the old-time banjo playing of Ketch Secor of Old Crow Medicine Show is a particular delight on “Jalopy.

A lot of Marsh’s songs reflect her West Virginia upbringing. “Motherlode,” a kind of down-home jazz tune, is filled with references to country life from farm animals to coon dogs to the centrality of religion. “Way Down” is written from the perspective of a coal miner’s wife who is ready to break out of her traditional role, while “Banjo Moon,” is a sweet reminiscence of simpler times and younger days back home.

A couple of songs combine Marsh’s country-folk roots with wider musical references. “Hey Ludwig” is a clever ditty that lyrically nods to some of Beethoven’s most familiar compositions while “Little Samba Queen” blends Appalachian and Brazilian motifs with nods to Antonio Carlos Jobim, João Gilbreto and Astrud Gilbreto and their classic “Girl from Ipanema.”

Although Marsh was new to me with this album, I did recognize one of her songs, “A Ways to Go,” as the lead track from Cowgirl’s Prayer, an album by Emmylou Harris from 1993. That she’s been writing such quality material for a long time suggests to me that there's probably many more great Lainie Marsh songs waiting to be heard. And I’m looking forward to hearing them.

- Mike Regenstreif

"All Music Guide"

Emmylou Harris, who gave Lainie Marsh her greatest recognition by recording her song "A Ways to Go" as the lead-off track of her 1993 album Cowgirl's Prayer, describes Marsh as "a cross between Laura Nyro and Rickie Lee Jones, with a bluegrass element lurking." A more accurate description would be to call her a cross between Maria Muldaur and Emmylou Harris, with the bluegrass element front and center. Marsh, a West Virginia native who has kicked around the L.A. and Nashville music scenes, has a baby-doll-alto full of rounded vowels and a headful of reminiscences about the West Virginia of her parents and grandparents. In her songs, she constantly refers to a rural dream world containing broken-down jalopies, sweet alcoholics, Jesus, and lots of coal mining. Her husband, Larry Jefferies, constructs country/bluegrass arrangements to accompany his wife's reveries, with mandolin, dobro, fiddle, and plenty of guitars strummed and sawed in an approximation of a mountain hoedown. Even if Marsh injects the occasional foreign reference into her conception ("Little Samba Queen" depicts an obsession with "The Girl from Ipanema," a song that must have made it even into the West Virginia hills in her childhood) and drapes the whole in a haze of memory (or, more likely, fantasy), it's still a consistent one, and she addresses it with warmth and familiarity. All Music Guide March 2010 - William Ruhlmann

"Midwest Record"

Emmylou Harris got it right away and Harris has a nose for unearthing progressive Appalachian sounds.  She’s found another winner here with this singer/songwriter whose bluegrass reflects life in a 2010 Wal-Mart countryside.  Not so progressive that’s she’s singing about meth labs powered by stolen ammonia from farmer’s tankers and the influx of gang activity looking for a docile population to sell drugs to, she does keep it back porch with an ear for state of the art and a eye on the future.  A perfect example of the kick in the pants Americana needs every so often.  This is one of those sets that insidiously becomes one of your faves before you even realized it happened.
March 2010 - Chris Spector

"Riveting Riffs"

Mention Appalachia and most of us think of coal mining and the songs that tell stories handed down by generations of coal miners.   With her new release, The Hills will Cradle Thee, Appalachian artist Lainie Marsh goes beyond the coal mines to capture the natural beauty of the mountains, the faith of the people living there, and the charm of life in Appalachia.
Emmylou Harris has described Marsh’s music as having “a bluegrass element lurking.”   That element practically leaps out of the first track, “Jalopy,” a toe-tapping mandolin excursion, which tells the story of the classic argument between a man and woman over his old car.    “Way Down,” is another bluegrass track, this one with the banjo keeping up the tempo, while Marsh shows off her unique vocal style and range in a first class coal mining narrative.   Harmonica fans will appreciate “A Ways to Go,” featuring Neal Hermuth.
“Motherlode,” is rhythmic and bouncy, with lyrics comprised of fun, entertaining rhymes.  Images of coon dogs, fish on a line, and garden rows waiting to be hoed pull the listener into the country setting.   “Hey Ludwig,” is another fun tune, which pays tribute to a piano player who stays out too late and lives it up a little too much.
The first time the album slows down is on the track “Banjo Moon,”  an enchanting ballad featuring banjo, fiddle and tambourine.   Listening to this music you could dance all night under the “banjo playing in the sky,” while a freight train whistles far away in the hills of West Virginia.
The Hills will Cradle Thee, features a stellar cast of musicians, including fiddler and banjo picker Ketch Secor of the Old Crow Medicine Show, and pedal steel virtuoso Bucky Baxter.   The musicians create a surprisingly different sound on “Little Samba Queen,” as they mix Brazilian rhythms and bossa nova guitar with banjo and mandolin.   Marsh’s voice is the best yet, with multiple layers of emotions, singing lyrics of the hills and the mines, with subtle references to South America while she tells of a girl’s musical dream.
It is difficult to pick a favorite track on this album as each one stands alone, yet they weave together seamlessly to paint a picture of Appalachian life – the miners, the gospel influences, and the dreams of the people.  The Hills Will Cradle Thee continues with its only sad song, “Dream of a Coal Miner’s Child,” a traditional song about a child’s fear for a father working in the mines. Marsh gives us a haunting depiction of the story and her voice becomes that of the child, while percussionist Paul Griffith conjures up the feeling of a perilous march to the mine, and fiddles sing woefully.
Marsh demonstrates a sultrier and smokier side to her voice, as she sings the romantic “Misty Juniper,” while accompanied by Kent Goodson, the longtime keyboard player for George Jones. Marsh’s style is reminiscent of the great jazz standards and phrases such as; “the falling leaves,” “the scent of evergreens,” and “your yes gaze into mine,” complete that feeling.
“Elijah’s Chariot,” changes up the tempo once again, this time with a gospel theme and choir, which recall the Old Testament story of the prophet Elijah being carried up to heaven by a chariot of fire.   “Elijah’s Chariot,” and some of the lyrics in the other songs, reminds the listener of the powerful influence of religion upon the people of the Appalachian region.
Almost everyone feels a kinship for the land they love, the place that they call home.  The final and title track, “The Hills Will Cradle Thee” sums it all up – Lainie Marsh knows where her heart lies.   These eleven tunes will take your heart there too and the hills will indeed cradle thee.
April 2010 - Cheryl Phipps


The Hills Will Cradle Thee, CD; individual tracks available through CD Baby, I-Tunes, Album debuted on Folk charts at #19 in March 2010 and continues to sail; Single "Banjo Moon" is currently at position #5. Full radio broadcast report available upon request.

Lainie's music is now available on Pandora Internet Radio



Lainie Marsh grew up in West Virginia, studied music at Boston's Berklee College and subsequently plied the singing and songwriting trades in Los Angeles before settling in Nashville. Her influences include S.T. Coleridge, Willy Shakes, Merle Travis, Mabel Mercer, Patsy Cline, Astrud Gilberto, Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Nicks and Patti Smith. She has performed on The Mountain Stage and as a featured artist at Tin Pan South. Her songs have been recorded by Emmylou Harris and Cerys Matthews, as well as featured on National Public Radio. Her recent CD recording, The Hills Will Cradle Thee, features a stellar cast of musicians, including Ketch Secor of The Old Crow Medicine Show, pedal steel virtuoso Bucky Baxter, and Kent Goodson, longtime keyboard player with George Jones. This is brave record, down home and exotic at once, from an Appalachian artist not worried about getting the Appalachian thing right. Lainie's writing surpasses hackneyed narratives of the coal mining experience to achieve a unique chronicle of one mountaineer's odyssey through what lies yonder, delivered up with a maverick vocal style.

Other interesting things you may not know about Lainie:

Aquamarine's her favorite color.

Curry's her favorite food.

In addition to being a Berklee alumna, she has a Master's degree in English!