Jill Jack at Molly Malone’s: high energy, woman-centered, heart aching country rock
(Los Angeles) I never miss a Jill Jack show in Los Angeles if I can help it, which is why I made sure I got a front table at the legendary Molly Malone’s this weekend because I knew that this was the last night of her tour and it was now or never. Being an early bird paid off. As she always does, Jill Jack electrified the room with her unique high energy, woman-centered , heart aching country rock and I had the best seat in the house.
Jack’s Los Angeles band – Jim Burkard on lead guitar, Bill Warnick on drums, the amazing Jonathan Swartz on mandolin (who was recruited that afternoon and blew us away with his fabulous talent), and Chris Colovas from Detroit on bass – created a sound that was perfect for Jack’s unique voice. The band became a single living creature of music that rocked and swayed and drummed and riffed and poured forth some of the sweetest, most blood moving sound I have heard in hallowed hall of Molly Malone’s. They just plain rocked.
And they rocked for a long time – an unheard of twelve-song set, starting with “Love Hotel” from the album of the same name, presaging a night of wild, aching, country blues, folk and rock that only Jill Jack can do. With gut-grabbing guitar solos by Burkard and Swartz’s flash fingers on the mandolin creating riffs any lead guitarist would be proud of, from the gitgo they were off to the races.
But if Jack knows anything, it is how to please and audience. She transitioned smoothly from an old favorite like “Love Hotel” to a recent hit, her new classic, “Sunflower Girl,” tracing the melody with her fingers in the air while she sang. “Memphis” followed, keeping up the momentum and providing even more opportunity for Jack’s ability to draw out notes with a country curl while rocking hard.
Jack was headlining at Molly Malone’s, but she and her band have opened for some of the greats of country– Bob Seger, Emmylou Harris, Chris Issak, and Loretta Lynn, among others — so she has plenty of stage time to learn how to keep an audience engaged personally as well as musically. She put that skill to good use when telling the story of the birth of the next song, the emotion-laden “Northern Michigan,” and how it ended up chosen by the state and used in a songwriter session.
But she didn’t let the nostalgic mood last long as she charged into solid rock-and roll territory with “Can’t Let Go,” using the full belt range of her voice while the two string players onstage – Swartz’s mandolin and Burkhard’s electric guitar — moved at lightning speed, pairing off with Jack as they played. She slowed it way down in “Austin” and went deep blues in “Makes Me Wonder” – something for everyone but always with her room-filling personality projecting through the music. And, of course, since this was Jill Jack, and since she had these two awesome players with her, she could not resist cranking up the volume, the tempo, and the beat as the songs moved along.
Jack has always looked forward, ever since she told her parents that she was giving up the job and the big house and the suburban ease to play music – not something they were happy to hear (her dad said “bullshit” when she told him). That was nine albums, numerous singles and videos, dozens of awards and hundreds of gigs ago and, as she said with a grin, they finally did come around when she invited them backstage as she sang in front of 17,000 people opening for Jethro Tull. So the next song, “Live Like There’s No Tomorrow” fit not only the mood of the evening, but also her story. The transformation was smooth – from the rock to heartfelt anthem, her voice soaring as high as it had earlier belted low.
Thematically following “Live Like There’s No Tomorrow,” but at a much higher tempo, she segued into “Watch Over Me” and “Road Take me Away” perfectly setting up for what I think is one of the crown jewels of her songwriting and singing career, “Cry, Cry Cry.” The band delivered it with a heart wrenching kick drum beat framing her voice with its distinct timbre that not only sets her apart from other singers, but gives her a range in both octaves and genres that is the reason she long ago dominated Detroit’s folk/rock scene and is building a national reputation.
As with any savvy performer, Jack and her band closed the evening on a high note with screaming energy in a six minute long version of “Runnin” from her album Moon and the Morning After, generating the applause, cheers, whistles and standing ovation she is used to by now.
You get all of Jill Jack in a performance — folk and rock, blues and ballads, country, humor, life story, a superb band. She’s the complete package: a superb songwriter, a stunning musician, a unique singer, a savvy entertainer. She won over the crowd in Molly Malone’s like she wins over crowds everywhere. Jill Jack is one of a kind and I can hardly wait until she comes back for another show in LA. She will need a bigger venue.
Patrick O’Heffernan. Host, Music FridayLive!
Jill Jack at Molly Malones, 11.14.15