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Reaching for the sky
07 October, 2005
Daily Tribune - By Joe Ballor
Sometimes, in order to move forward, you first have to take a step back. That proved true for Ferndale musician Jill Jack. A couple of years ago, the singer-songwriter-guitarist was burned out and nearing a breakdown, having played an average of 150 club dates a year for nearly a decade. "It was to the point where (longtime musical partner) Billy (Brandt) and I weren't really speaking," said Jack, who celebrates the release of her new recording, "Moon and the Morning After," at a CD release concert Saturday at the Baldwin Theatre. "The band was just standing on stage and running through the songs for the money. It was, let's get paid and go home, and I wasn't writing whatsoever. I wasn't having fun and I was learning to detest my guitar." Jack decided she needed a long break, canceled 23 shows and took nearly a year off, traveling with her daughter and spending time with her parents and friends. "It was the best thing I ever did, and this record came out of it," she said. "I hooked up with life again and started hanging out with my friends or going to people's houses for barbecues. I remember sitting there feeling so abnormal. I didn't know how to associate with human beings. I kept waiting for someone to say, 'You're on.'... "It took awhile (to start writing again.). It was three or four months before I even picked up the guitar. I didn't even look at it." Eventually, her muse returned and Jack began writing material that resulted in "Moon and the Morning After." She decided to challenge herself on the recording, using a new producer (Nolan Mendenhall) and studio (Roscoe's Recording in Detroit), and working with several musicians for the first time. The CD, her sixth, is the first studio recording since she left Drum Dancer records and started her own UpHill Productions. The first release on UpHill was 2004's "Jill Jack: Live and Unplugged," which was named outstanding acoustic/folk recording at the 2005 Detroit Music Awards. Mendenhall, who has played in Jack's band for the last year or so, is well respected for his studio skills, having twice been named record producer of the year at the Detroit Music Awards. He thoroughly enjoyed his first co-operative effort with Jack, recognizing the finished product as something special. "It was a joy because she is full flower as a writer right now," Mendenhall said. "It's an amazing thing that happens with people who have a skill at writing. Her songs are succinct and direct, almost like an emotional shorthand. Every song is just a gem, there's nothing between Jill's intent and the listening audience. It bodes well for where her writing is going. It's a wonderful snapshot of a writer who is hitting her stride." On the recording, Jack used several of her regular musical collaborators, including Brandt (guitar), Mendenhall (bass), Ron Pangborn (drums), David Mosher (mandolin and acoustic guitar), and Dale Grisa (keyboards). Newcomers Bobby Jones (keyboards), Bobby Lewis (dobro), Roscoe (electric guitar), and background vocalists Greg C. Brown and Charles Hawkins provided a new spark. "To have that that caliber of musicians, it was like, 'Can you play this?' and they would say, 'Sure.' And they would do it even better than you wanted," Jack said. "It was painless and I had so much fun." The CD has a decided country flavor, which resulted from Jack writing during her hiatus without influences from other musicians. Jack and Mendenhall decided to give the recording a uniform feel, eventually choosing a dozen songs from about 50 she had written. "If a song stuck out from the flavor of the CD, we would bring in an instrument that would tie it together with the rest of the songs," she said. "'Full Circle' had a real gospel feel to it, but to bring it to the level of where the other songs were, we put a slide guitar on it and that gave it a country edge." Jack also penned several songs with a romantic feel, with the heartfelt songs "Do I Dare" and "Fallen (A Love Song)" tapping into a wistful vein that she has rarely mined before. Even the name of the CD, "Moon and the Morning After," has an emotional meaning. "Technically, this CD was going to have all these songs about the moon on it," Jack said. "None of those songs made the record, because they were the first batch of songs that came out. I was trying to go left and write jazz and I can't write jazz." Still, she decided to keep the original name. "My grandma had died and the full moon was always important to me, because she always told me that my (late) grandfather was in it and that I could talk to him. And she died on a full moon. That kick started my writing again. The full moon is very tricky. It brings out a lot of energy." The CD is Jack's best to date. She hopes it will lead to national exposure. But, whether or not stardom comes, you get the feeling that she will do just fine. "I'm in my best voice right now and I'm so comfortable with who I am, as crazy as I am," she joked. "I'm at a point in my life where it's just me. I'm confident and maybe that comes with age. Someone once told me, 'The path to stardom isn't like a rocket ship, it's like a rollercoaster. The highs keep you going when you hit the low spots.' That's the best advice I've ever gotten."

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