Jill Zmud has very patient neighbours.
For the last four years, they’ve been listening in Ottawa as she worked and reworked the songs for her second album small matters of life and death.
They’ve undoubtedly heard as she explored her own grief, heartbreak and joy through those songs.
And now that the album is finally done, those neighbours are hearing a new sound:
Jill’s brand-new baby daughter, born just six weeks before the album gets released.
Many people have been asking WHY Jill Zmud would try to release an album at the same time as having a baby.
But in the case of small matters of life and death, somehow it seems appropriate.
It’s an album tied to the celebration of life, lives and the unbreakable link to family.
Jill hadn’t originally intended on taking four years to release the follow-up album to her critically-acclaimed as we quietly drive by. Jill was at the time on a great path: the album had made many “Best Of” lists in 2009; she’d had the opportunity to sing duets on stage at Ottawa Folk Fest with legends like Jim Cuddy and Ramblin’ Jack Elliott; she was touring and performing at large festivals. Reviews of her live performances included The Ottawa Citizen's declaration that Jill's "rich, soulful voice imprinted itself on the crowd and she left everyone longing for another sample". Jill was ready to take that mix she calls "torch folk" (a mix of folk, Americana, gospel, blues, roots and soul) to the next level.
But a few life events changed the direction of the album. There was the death of her beloved father Bill, who she sings about on the album in songs like Chained and Bound and Willow with Me. The painful loss of her father nearly derailed the music career altogether, but slowly Jill found her voice again as this album was created.
The other event that defined the album was the discovery of an old dusty reel-to-reel tape in her parents’ Saskatoon home, the very house Jill grew up in. On that tape in a cardboard box were the songs of her musician uncle, Ed Clynton. Ed was a member of the Canadian band Witness Inc. in the 1960's and 1970’s. After a series of radio hits and opening for Roy Orbison, the group was doing well. But Ed eventually left the band to embark on a solo career. Sadly Ed was killed in a car crash in Northern Ontario before Jill was born. But on that reel Jill found in her parents' basement were, unbelievably, never-before-heard demos of him performing his own folk and country tunes. The mystery of that moment got Jill thinking about what we DO in fact leave behind, when we pass on.
Two of the songs on the album (New Jersey Turnpike and Daddy Just Keeps Playing In The Band) are covers of Jill’s uncle’s work. Other songs use lines of Ed’s works as inspiration for Jill’s original works. Earthly Things , for instance, which investigates the mystery of Jill’s grandfather, was inspired by a line of Ed’s “There’s no sense in an earthly thing”. Victoria Tucker is a re-imagining of a song of Ed’s called Frank Jones. One of Jill’s songs on the album, Off You Go, is in fact the story of Ed’s life.
When it came time to create the sound on the album, however, Jill found a producer whose work she had admired: Steve Dawson, the Nashville musician and producer (originally from Vancouver) who’d produced albums for Old Man Luedecke, The Sojourners, Deep Dark Woods and more. Steve had exactly the mix of old-school Nashville soul and Southern swamp that Jill was looking for, and an ability to find both the darker grit and the hopeful light in her voice.
Steve suggested recording the album at The Tragically Hip’s Bathouse studio, where during a very cold and frosty winter, a very pregnant Jill Zmud teamed up with some very amazing musicians to create the album. Among those on this album are Brian Kobayakawa on bass, Gary Craig on drums and Steve O’Connor on keys… plus returning from the last album are the glorious gospel harmonies of Jerusha Lewis and Christine Mathenge. Jill was also thrilled that another gospel trio came on board for some of the tracks: The McCrary Sisters, who’ve recorded with the likes of Johnny Cash and Wynonna Judd. And then there is the appearance of one Mr. Jim Cuddy, who helps bring Ed Clynton’s New Jersey Turnpike to life on the album.
The album also might not have been finished without the dedicated Jill Zmud fans who contributed to her Indiegogo campaign: helping her raise over $12,000, and showing Jill more support than she ever dreamt was out there.
And of course, the unheard presence through the whole album: Jill’s baby girl, who’s been there as the next chapter in Jill’s life has been written, and was there when the album was released at the National Arts Centre on May 23rd, 2014. And hopefully that baby girl is learning how all matters, big and small, can be faced a little easier with some music along the way.