Jill Jack is one of my favorite people. An icon of music in Detroit, she has toured nationally and in Europe, bringing her intelligent, exciting, emotional country rock blues and ballads to adoring fans coast to coast and then some. Jill now has 11 Award winning CD’s to her name and this week is releasing These Days, which looks like it is going to be yet another winner.
In a way These Days is another Jill Jack slam-bang, full-of-fun album. But at the same time it is much more. Jack takes us through nine exquisitely crafted songs with a vocal and literary control even tighter and more refined than I have heard before, live or recorded. This is especially evident in “Road Take Me Away” and the title song, Jackson Browne’s “These Days” – the only song on the album she did not write or co-write. Even after 11 albums she gets better and better.
Jack has built a career and an adoring audience on her ability to use her voice and her lyrics to connect directly with the hearts of her fans, and with the smoothness and emotion of These Days she draws them in even closer. Perhaps this is the result of the tumultuous year in which she produced this album; illness, injury, her father’s death, and a friend’s murder weighed heavily on her. Whatever the personal impact of these events on Jack, the emotion she delivers in the writing and vocals on These Days is a step beyond previous work.
She opens the album energetically with the good feeling, gospel- influenced, “Where were you?” But there is pain underneath the rhythm that surfaces in lines like Where were you/When I was wrecked with sorrow? Where indeed?
She moves on to “Amelia” with a country beat but a blues thread shot through it with verses like Life’s like a cooking that could crumble/It beats you down, beats you down so low. She moves on to the enigmatic “Red Dirt Road” written with bandmate Brian Chester White, which chronicles a Mexican border patrol waving goodbye to their gringas while Jack stands in the road in her Sunday best and her life in a brown paper bag, thinking she won’t be back. You can see it in your mind, even as you try to position it in Jack’s Detroit mosaic, or perhaps today’s news.
Then she shifts the mood and rocks you like you expect her to in “Can’t Let Go”, “You and Me Against the World”, “This “Town”, and the move-along R&B “Crazy As Crazy Does”. These are songs that bring a smile to your face and a tap to your toes while you flow with the lines Let’s have some fun/Stay up all night and/Laugh when the sun comes up. Classic Jill Jack fun.
Jack closes with album with Browne’s introspective “These Days”, a look at a life spent in song – perhaps her life, perhaps not. The words are his; the controlled quavering voice is hers. Somehow I don’t think the melancholy is hers, but the raw feelings it kindles are delicious.
Jill began her professional career a dozen albums ago as a young backup singer with Detroit country and rock bands. In a few short years she was writing her own songs, fronting her own band and opening for headliners like Bob Seger, John Waite, Emmylou Harris, Chris Issak, and Loretta Lynn. Now she is the headliner, a musical magician who manages in These Days to combine love, grief, rock, country and blues into joy disguised as music.