Jill Jack will be hosting her sixth annual birthday party at the Ark on Saturday, January 14. A mainstay of the Michigan folk-rock scene, the singer-songwriter released her first recording in 1997, has added ten more since then, and, along the way, has picked up thirty-eight Detroit Music Awards. A musician with no interest in pigeonholing herself into one, or even a few, genres, she writes songs and sings covers in folk, blues, soul, rock, and country, and her latest album is yet another departure–jazz standards from the Great American Songbook.
Jack’s a flexible singer with the kind of versatile, clear-to-smoky voice that can make itself at home in all of those styles. She’ll remind you of Janis Joplin on one song, Joan Baez on the next, and Billie Holiday on the one after that. She can belt out the gospel standard “Oh Happy Day,” croon “Moon River,” and almost whisper the lullaby “All the Pretty Little Horses” with equal conviction. Her five-piece backing band is equally proficient, capable of providing just the right support on every song.
But perhaps what endears her so to her loyal fans (her birthday bash is always a crowded, lively party) is what she says between songs. She seems to make little distinction between how she talks to her audience and how she might talk with close friends. Her patter is filled with autobiographical, confessional tidbits–hilarious, poignant, earthy, and sometimes all of those at the same time. She tells how she used to listen to Dave Edwards of the legendary Detroit rock band The Look when she was a teenager and then met him again when she herself was already performing. “He remembered my sister–she had bigger boobs.” The laughter is still going when she adds, “This is like therapy. How much do I owe you?”
Of course there has to be cake at a birthday party. In the Ark’s lobby at last year’s there was an enormous chocolate cake in the shape of a guitar, with frosting outlining the strings, tuning pegs, bridge, and sound hole. During intermission and after the show, everyone in the full house got to enjoy a piece.