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.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
Copyright 2010, Peterborough Folk Music Society.
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