Approaching her 12th album, Jann Arden was facing a career crossroad. After more than 35 years in the music business, the 52-year-old Calgarian could not be faulted if she started to wind down her career, continue with the TV celebrity appearances and execute the odd nostalgic concert tour. Yet for Arden, nostalgia at this point is not an option.
As her new record title suggests “Everything Almost” is about looking back and taking stock of what you’ve achieved but wanting to challenge myself to climb higher and reach the top of that mountain,” Arden analysed over the phone amidst a frantic day of activity which saw up at the crack of dawn to appear on Marilyn Dennis’s Toronto Global morning show before executing another stint before the cameras as a week-long guest on Global’s “Social” programme before hitting the phones to promote her new album.
Selecting ace producer Bob Rock (whose credits include Metallica, Motley Crue and Aerosmith) seemed to be an unusual pairing considering Arden’s penchant for lightweight ballads, yet the two had worked together previously on her Uncover Me 2 release and Rock had expanded his scope to also produce crooner Michael Buble’s latest opus.
However, Arden began to reconsider her production choice when, upon meeting Rock in London England to present him with her new demos, she was told in no uncertain terms that her material didn’t cut it.
“He said, `You’ve got a few good songs, but for the most part, you’re not ready.” reported Arden. “I’m like, what! But he was right. He could sense that I had become complacent and he told me to go back and think about not being you”.
“It’s something you get into when you’ve been writing for a long time,” continued Arden. “It’s like you have a tendency to go to the same keys on a piano or the same chords on a guitar, it’s like always putting your shirt and pants on the same way. Bob challenged me to take a different approach to writing; he had me writing from a different place.”
Recording in the studio with Rock also became a testing experience for Arden with the former Payolas’ guitarist pushing her and challenging her to improve her vocals. “There were days when I was so upset, I was in tears but there were also days when I came out of the studio totally euphoric. I know Bob made me a better singer.”
Arden recalled one session in particular where she was trying to record “Hard To Be Alive”. “We were messing around in the studio and we couldn’t figure out how to end the song so I started to crawl up, and crawl up and crawl up with the vocals until I got so high that everyone fell about laughing, but Bob said “You can laugh but I’m keeping that.”
Whether it’s rock songs like “Comin’ ‘Round For Us” or a potential masterpiece in “Hard To Be Alive” with its rock intro, electric fiddle and its Beatleish baroque middle eight, “Everything Almost” will surprise even Arden’s most ardent fans. “Bob did such a delicate job recording some of my ballads that he had me in tears,” reflected Arden. “He had so many ideas; you could almost see the smoke coming out of his head.”
With reviews and comments raving about “Everything Almost” being her most creative body of work to date, Arden hopes that listeners will appreciate the album a complete musical piece. “Yes I appreciate that these days it’s all about getting that one single on iTunes and the radio but I also cling to the idea that there are still people out there that want to put on a CD and listen to the whole thing.”
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After a career initially sparked by the success of a debut Time For Mercy LP in 1993 followed by her 1994 ground-breaking Living Under June release which featured her biggest hit Insensitive, Arden has enjoyed a solid recording success marked by concert tours that have been spiked by her trademark humour. An element which has also spread to many television appearances, be it stints on Rick Mercer’s CBC Mercer Report, a stint hosting the 2005 Juno Awards, a judge on the Canada Sings reality show or numerous guest appearances on daytime television which has led to the assumption that one day Arden will get her own prime time slot.
As for touring, Arden notes that she doesn’t need a new record to go out on the road but feels she has a responsibility to her record company and to her fans to present a fresh production when she goes out again in September.
“There’s a renewed energy with the new record and I am looking forward to performing at least five or six new songs,” enthuses Arden. “But this tour also marks the 20th anniversary of my Living Under June release and I want to devote at least 20 minutes to the great hits off that album, so the concert set with be a mix of nostalgia plus new songs.”