One may assume an eight-year sabbatical from music paired with a plethora of tumultuous life experiences would deter an artist from releasing another album.
But despite battling her third bout of cancer, giving birth, and tackling troubling mental health issues, Brisbane songwriter Jackie Marshall has creatively channelled each challenge into the writing of a record brimming with vulnerability and courage, all while showcasing impressive musical versatility.
‘Lilith Shrugs’ opens with eight-minute epic ‘Little Birds’, the two-minute instrumental introduction warm and uplifting, dictated by a driven bass and a complex saxophone melody.
Each verse is grounded by statement: “Birds flying over the horizon,” subsequent lyrics varying slightly throughout, ‘answered’ (in a seemingly jazz-influenced, question-answer technique) by improvised-sounding saxophone solos. As the title suggests, the song soars like a bird, infinitely optimistic and hopeful, setting a very joyous precedent.
Track two ‘Little Diggers’ is darker, moodier, shining the spotlight on Jackie’s stunning vocals. It sways like the sea, like branches in the breeze, very bluesy and rich with emotion, without being melancholy.
The final song of her ‘little’ titled trilogy, ‘Little Mouse’ is an acoustic addition incorporating only a plucking guitar and twinkling keyboard. “Get your shi.t together, little mouse,” she sings (seemingly addressing herself), the folky gem drawing comparisons to Sufjan Stevens, almost hymn-like at times.
Jackie offers the listener a glimpse of her extraordinary versatility with ‘I Know You’, proving country is another genre she’s capably conquered. The song starts with a strumming guitar, her voice beautifully harmonised in most verses and the chorus, where she reminisces: “I know you, I see you, I remember you.”
‘Darling Etc’ is undeniably sexy, a blues/ soul/ country hybrid, choir cooing “oohs” in the background. A twanging guitar slams a standout solo two minutes in, while the saxophone makes another memorable appearance throughout.
The pace slows with ‘Fuel Station Sunglasses’, raw and stripped back, vocals and acoustic guitar only. “The pigs pulled them over on the highway, she poured booze on her face. They stood behind her car, when they lifted the boot, yeah she looked away,” Jackie sings, line one of a winding story cleverly centred around a pair of glasses.
Click here to read our recent interview with Jackie Marshall.
A full band features in ‘You Can Take Me Riding’, a refreshingly upbeat number tackling a tender topic – a past lover. “Can’t sing it like we used to do, can’t hold me like you used to do, can’t feel like it was before, 'cause we’ve seen so much and we can’t be sure,” she croons, the piano alternatively starring in the instrumental background.
Another swinging melody, ‘Oh My Baby’ almost hints at island aloha, moving as one would slowly hula on the sun-soaked shores of Hawaii. Unlike most of ‘Lilith Shrugs’, the track includes a repeated chorus: “Oh my baby, oh my baby, you don’t know why you are crying.”
‘Don’t Wake The Baby’ is another excellent showcase of Jackie’s incredible pipes, soothing as a lullaby, voice paired only with electric guitar (think Jeff Buckley’s rendition of ‘Hallelujah’). Here, she touches on single motherhood, but subtly, tenderly: “Don’t wake the baby, boil me some tea… So much to do, that I never did before.”
She fondly sings to an instrument in ‘My Boyfriend’s Guitar’, the most rock & roll piece on the album (albeit hinting at country). She dances around their relationship, leaving its status in question, closing the song with: “My boyfriend’s guitar, it’s a modern wonder. And it was once, the tune to my heart.”
Closing track ‘I’ve Been Wrong’ secures ‘Lilith Shrugs’ as a record inspired by hardship, but one that’s grounded by self-reflection and empowerment. It’s the most traditionally pop-structured of all 11 compositions, consistently mirroring the warm and uplifting sentiments exhibited in track number one, rounding off ‘Lilith Shrugs’ very neatly.
Although the album is saturated with personal experiences, thoughts, feelings, Jackie Marshall has very humbly left much open to interpretation. She expertly delves into her past without oversharing, or over-specifying, allowing the listener to individually interpret each song, all while adding an element of mystery.
Even so, her elusive words have still painted an emotive picture; she refuses to wallow in darker sentiments, instead addressing them with bravery and flare.
Difficult moments may have inspired many songs though not one track could be described as ‘sad’; deeply contemplative, perhaps, but powerful – her strength is palpable, and it ignites a spark, one that says: “Whatever your struggles, keep going.”
She’s incorporated an incredible variety of instruments as well, and her genre exploration remarkably spans from folk to soul, to country, to rock & roll. Though as expected, her exceptional voice is the standout, it’s unwavering, occasionally haunting, always faultless.
‘Lilith Shrugs’ offers a deeply moving insight into the inner workings of Jackie’s mind, workings I’m certain will spur universal empathy. While her songwriting sadly stemmed from hard life experiences, her wise and valiant disposition proves the shining element.