The accidental album, as I have been referring to it these past weeks, was just that. Totally unplanned, never even thought of doing such a thing before, but sometimes the accidentals are by far the most poignant and magical in life. You can’t ignore them. They wish themselves into being. You must always be at the ready.
I found myself late at night out by the ocean, recording antique bells, chimes, old toy parts, mallets, metals, playing the piano with tears in my eyes as the moonlight glistened across the keys.
The accidental album, my dear Malcontents, is called “Silver Smoke, Star of Night.“ It is a Christmas album.
Inspired for the most part by your enthusiastic pleas on Twitter, after I spoke of singing carols by candlelight last Christmas Eve at San Francisco’s historic Swedenborgian Church. A dear friend was going through rehab, so we were trying to find a distraction from the parties and alcohol— a sign posted a midnight carol sing-along at the church. We had always wanted to peek inside this magnificent structure anyway, might as well take the opportunity tonight.
I had not heard many of these carols in years, was so moved that I couldn’t get some of them out of my head. I began researching more, posted on Twitter of my intrigue. An onslaught of Tweets followed begging me to release an album of these songs. When chatting with Sam Rosenthal of Projekt Records, I mused “I’m thinking of an album of my interpretation of dark classical Christmas carols.” He said “Are you kidding? That would be amazing. I’ll release that in a second!”
So the seed was planted. Contracts were signed.
I had just come back from the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia where I began research for my musical excavation project there. I put that on hold (as well as composing songs for my next album) and began working on Christmas music. I spent evenings through the summer holed up at the piano with bottles of wine, burning frankincense, playing Christmas carols. Truly bizarre and wonderful! This is the holiday album I always wished existed. But I guess it was up to me to make it so.
At the same time, I wanted to create lavishly dark, beautiful music you could listen to at ANY time of year. I’m proud of this collection as it’s in no way limited by the calendar. Happy accidents.
Read more about the making of Silver Smoke, Star of Night in the press release below.
You can pre-order Silver Smoke, Star of Night HERE!
The official PRESS RELEASE:
The Making of Silver Smoke, Star of Night
Silver Smoke, Star of Night beckons away from the cheap holiday tinsel and phony cheer to reveal a more evocative, sophisticated undercurrent. This is the season’s Night Music–– Jill Tracy’s glorious realm that lurks within the shadow of Christmas, and will cast you under its spell.
Silver Smoke, Star of Night is Jill Tracy’s lavish, shadowy interpretation of some of the more haunting classic carols. Emotional, delicate, and textural, the music was recorded in completely organic, but grand fashion-––from hand-held antique chimes, bells, toys, mallets, bamboo, metals, and drums by master percussionist Randy Odell; to the mysterious heartfelt strings of cult violinist Paul Mercer.
The space, the breath, the huge dynamics of the recording add to its intensity and filmic aspect. This ambiance was a crucial factor for Jill Tracy who even sampled environments, including an abandoned stairwell at night, to create the reverb sound for her piano.
“I wanted listeners to lose themselves hypnotically within this music, but also honor and embrace the imagery, ” Tracy explains. “We 3 Kings” begins with a veritable score of the Magi traveling far, in the black of night, laden with strange, exotic gifts. In fact, the lyrics for “We 3 Kings” was a major part of the reason I wanted to do this album. The little-known verses are dark and gorgeous: Myrrh is mine, its bitter perfume / breathes of life of gathering gloom / sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying / sealed in the stone-cold tomb. — These are not songs merely to be sung, but tales to be told.”
The inspiration for Silver Smoke, Star of Night came at the urging of fans on Twitter. Jill Tracy tweeted about an adventure that found her inside San Francisco’s historic Swedenborgian Church at midnight last Christmas Eve singing by candlelight.
“I’ve never really been into Christmas,” she reveals. “But I was completely moved, had not heard some of these songs for years. The lyrics are poignant and bleak, yet hopeful. I began researching some of the more older obscure carols, some of these date back to the Middle Ages. I wanted to interpret them in my style, create an emotional, mystical journey befitting to the spirit and subject matter. But at the same time, music that you could listen to at any time of year.”
Silver Smoke, Star of Night includes the 16th century “Coventry Carol“, (a mothers lament over King Herod’s Massacre of the Innocents;) a nine-minute swoon-worthy “O Come O Come Emanuel” with sweeping violins, angular piano, and an almost noir jazz contrabass, a devastatingly beautiful piano vocal version of “What Child is This,” and “Room 19,” Jill Tracy’s original ballad about a spirit haunting a run-down hotel room after his 1947 Christmas Eve suicide.
“This album has become one of my most empowering projects yet,” Jill Tracy reveals. “And one I never imagined doing. That’s what makes it utterly compelling.”
Piano, vocals- Jill Tracy
Drums, percussion, metals, antique bells, chimes, toys– Randy Odell
Violin- Paul Mercer
Contrabass- Kenny Annis
engineered, mixed by John Anaya, Humpback Recording (San Francisco)
additional engineering, mixing by Drew Zajicek, GetReel Productions, Bruce Bennett.
mastered by Gary Hobish, A. Hammer Mastering
produced by Jill Tracy with John Anaya
Photography by Audrey Penven
Artwork, star puppetry by Trista Musco