At the age of 56 Jann Arden has taken her place as the queen of Canadian music. Her career, which has spanned roughly 35 years, has seen its share (as she told us during one of her in between song chats) of small but meaningful moments. Arden has earned 19 Juno Award nominations, 8 Juno Award wins, has hosted the Juno Awards a couple of times, has had 19 Top 10 singles in her home country of Canada, has recorded 12 albums, written a couple of books, and is a member of the Order of Canada. Impressive. But what is most impressive about this woman is that she has been able to connect with audiences of different ages over decades through the heartbreaking lyrics of her songs and the great tone of her voice.
Jann Arden was born in Calgary and grew up in Springbank, Alberta. It was only in 1993 with the release of her album Time for Mercy and the hit single “I Would Die For You” that her career took off, here in Canada anyway. The follow up album Living Under June continued her streak and even saw the single “Insensitive” bring her commercial success in the United States. She has never really replicated the success of Living Under June, but she continues to string together solid albums filled with songs people enjoyed listening to.
While she has undergone some tough times of late with the death of her father and having to put her beloved mother in assisted living due to Alzheimer’s, Arden forges forward. 2018 saw her release her 12th album, These Are the Days, which she worked with the legendary Bob Rock on. She began writing songs when she around 11 or 12 years old and has been doing it ever since. With that much road beneath her feet, she is really good at stringing words together and putting them to a melody. Despite the fact that she is screamingly funny her songs are all rather dark. Joking on this night that she was not allowed to put “Insensitive” on her first album because her label (Universal) thought there were too many ballads. None of her songs have a wasted moment and rarely is there a light one.
What has always amazed me is how this songbird is not a trained musician in the least. While she possesses a strong and expressive voice Arden cannot read or write music. Everything is done by ear and on instinct. Amazing! Even when she had to tune her acoustic guitar a couple of times she apologized as it takes her a little longer than other musicians. I have not seen her live in a number of years, so when her voice in the first two songs “Where No One Knows Me” off the album Jann Arden and “Wishing That” off Happy? was a little thin I was admittedly worried. But then as it warmed up it became that warm toned instrument we all know and cling to.
On stage while not singing she remains as witty as ever. Joking a lot whether about her shirt popping open and a stagehand having to come close it with a paper clip or tripping over something near her microphone stand and quickly uttering “I’m okay”. What was different from the many other occasions I have seen her live was that moments when she gave us a peek into the woman behind the singer and joker. That woman told us she a few years back stopped drinking. Admitting that she never drank in public only did it alone in private, but it was damaging. She stopped it. Maybe around the same time in which she got out of a 10 year relationship in which Arden told us the last 9 years were not good. She has never previously told us anything about romantic relationships she has been in. Gave us an idea of the human behind the songs. Thank you, Jann.
A musical journey through her personal life is what she takes you on and jokes that it will make you feel better about yours. As hers has reputedly not been great. It has made beautiful music though.
A woman secure in herself and what she can do in the music world, there is no catering to musical trends. She does not even attempt to get on the radio anymore. If she does, great, but she is making the music she wants to. And her longtime fans continue to connect with. Being herself, is what her fans love her for and connect with. The human. Jann Arden, prairie girl.
Opening up for Arden on this night was local girl from legendary musical heredity, Martha Wainwright. Rufus’ younger sister and daughter of Kate McGarrigle. The 42-year-old demonstrates a strong and malleable voice and good skills on the guitar. But she is not my cup of tea. Over the 40 odd minutes of her set she moved about like she needed to pee and her quirkiness seemed rather forced to me. Being odd for the sake of being seen as not your typical pop star does not work for me. Her best moment was when she took on other people’s songs like her the McGarrigle Sisters, Leonard Cohen and even Edith Piaf.
1. Where No One Knows Me
2. Wishing That
3. Everybody’s Pulling On Me
4. At Seventeen
5. I Would Die For You
6. Not Your Little Girl
7. All the Little Things
9. You Don’t Know Me
10. Anyone Who Had a Heart (Burt Bacharach cover vocals by Allison Cornell)
11. To Sir With Love
12. Could I Be Your Girl
13. Little Bird
15. Leave the Light On
16. Good Mother
17. Time For Mercy