Uncover Me 2 is one of Jann Arden’s finest releases, and she is absolutely thrilled with every single note on it.
“As far as my first cover record (the platinum-selling Uncover Me also released by Universal Music Canada),” this just blows it out of the water,” she exclaims.
On Uncover Me 2, singing songs popularized by The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, The Motels, The Smiths, Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, The Everly Brothers, Doris Day, Benny Goodman, Peggy Lee, Lesley Gore, and Dorothy Moore, Jann performs with a forcefulness that makes you believe that she wrote the selections. There is one original song as well, Mr. McLennan.
“This is a much deeper record,” Jann continues “These are songs I loved while growing up, but I had some great suggestions from Bruce (Allen) and Bob (Rock). They brought songs to the table that I wouldn’t have considered in a million years. These are all songs that people can relate to. I hope people find a little bit of themselves listening to it. I hope they recall an old memory.”
Jann singing has always been wonderfully musical. Onstage, she can do more for a song by a mere rolling of her eyes or with a quick smile than most pop singers can with all the vocal diction training in the world.
On her recordings as well, Jann does not so much carry a tune; she elegantly follows it—with an intonation, phrasing, sense of dynamics, and sense of holding onto a line that we associate with the great pop masters.
With her vocal dynamics and cool, sultry voice, Jann Arden has to be considered in the same league as Dinah Washington, Annie Lennox, and Dusty Springfield.
“Jann is just a great singer,” producer Bob Rock agrees. “The great thing about her is that she is very brazen. I threw challenges at her, and she never wavered. In My Room, she knew, but she didn’t—at first– know how to quite sing it. Two takes, and she had it.”
Bob continues, “On this album, I challenged her with the range that she had to sing in; and the power that she had to sing in. I was thinking anything from Dusty Springfield to Shirley Bassey. That’s what I wanted. A real singer’s singer. We pulled it off, I gotta tell you. I was very impressed.”
“Bob really challenged me,” acknowledges Jann. “He had me come at these songs with a lot of different keys, and he kept pushing me. I sound quite a bit different on this album because he had me get out of my comfort zone.”
Uncover Me 2 began with a meeting in Vancouver earlier this year between Arden and her manager Bruce Allen who had introduced her earlier to Bob. The two first worked together in 2010 on her single I Can’t Make You Stay.
For Uncover Me 2, Jann sought only to be the passenger–to have Bob slip into the driver’s seat alone. “I have never not co-produced or produced a record,” she points out. “I took a step back. I had just finished writing my memoir (Falling Backwards), and I was tired. I just let him do his job. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed this. I just love the album.”
In Canada, Bob is well-known for his own band The Payola$ that split in 1986 after four albums, and 6 Juno Awards; but few people have had a bigger impact on popular music than this soft-spoken ex-Winnipegger.
He made his international reputation in the ’80s, while he was an engineer at Vancouver’s Little Mountain Sound, working with producer Bruce Fairbairn on albums for Loverboy, and Aerosmith.
In 1988, Bob switched to producing, overseeing productions for Kingdom Come, Bon Jovi, Mötley Crüe, The Cult, and Metallica. In recent years, often working from his home base, Plantation Studios in Maui, Hawaii, he has produced Bryan Adams, Michael Buble, The Tragically Hip, Our Lady Peace, Simple Plan, The Offspring and others.
“Bob is the most laid-back, chilled-out person,” says Jann. “He’s got that 16-year-old boyish charm. He’s in his black knit sweaters, and blue jeans with his chain hanging out of his wallet. He’s very soft-spoken with musicians. He tells them what he wants. He sings to them what he wants. He sings parts. He’s really musical.”
In narrowing down selections for the album, Jann started chatting down the phone line with Bob, sketching out ideas, and parameters for each song—giving him free full rein to rework the songs.
Bob suggested working with a different band than Jann had used on past recordings. He knew the strictly A-list players he wanted for the sessions at The Warehouse Studios in Vancouver.
This includes: Guitarist/keyboardist Jamie Edwards; Bryan Adams band members, guitarist Keith Scott, and bassist Norm Fisher; guitarist Craig Northey and drummer Pat Steward from The Odds; as well as John Webster (organ); Allison Cornell (violin/viola), and sisters Camille and Saffron Henderson on background vocals.
Several musicians Jann was familiar with; most of them she wasn’t. But she trusted Bob’s instincts. “I had never worked with these musicians,” she says. “Bob brought them in.”
Uncover Me 2 was recorded at a fast clip. Jann and Bob didn’t wrench the songs into a new shape or dress them in garishly different fashions; rather they gently rendered them in different textures, colours, and moods.
“I reacted to the songs,” explains Bob. “The first track we did was You Don’t Own Me. Once we did that we had it. It was, ‘This is a great sound; this is a great feel; let’s go with it.’ Then we moved quickly. Jann repeated some vocals, but she probably did four (final) vocals a day. Love Hurts is mostly live off the floor. Actually, I think that there’s a bit of that (live) vibe on the album. There’s great energy on it.”
About You Don’t Know Me Jann says, “The Lesley Gore version is great, but I didn’t want to touch her version. I wanted to move on from it, and really sing it hard. Those lyrics are as prevalent today with all of the social networking and cyber stalking as they ever were. I love what that song says. That was Bruce’s choice.”
Allen also suggested In My Room and advised Rock to keep the production lean. “It was just Jamie Edwards on piano, and her that sang it,” recalls Bob. “We did it in two takes. We tried to put the least amount of stuff (overdubs) on it as possible. It was a great suggestion.”
Jann had some reservations about recording such an iconic Beach Boys’ song. “I am really grateful that Bruce brought in. The only reason I didn’t go near it at first is that it’s The Beach Boys. I had enough trouble with (Fleetwood Mac’s) Dreams. It was Bob who brought in Dreams and Only The Lonely. I was like, “I am putting myself on the line here because these people are very much alive, like The Motels. That song was so fun to sing, but the lyric makes no sense at all.”
Jann brought in Glory of Love, a #1 for bandleader Benny Goodman in 1936, and widely covered since. “I love the Nina Simone version,” she says. “I’m not fond of the slow ballad (versions) of Glory of Love; I wanted to do something fun, and not what people are used to me singing. I love the drums on it. I love the sassiness of it. It is just two minutes of fun.”
With its soft California breeze, the exquisite Que Sera Sera, introduced in the 1956 Alfred Hitchcock film The Man Who Knew Too Much, may be the album’s most unexpected track.
For her part, Jann has never sounded more convincingly elegant and pensive. She uses Jay Livingston and Ray Evans’ lyric form as a vehicle for some of the best singing she has ever done.
“It’s a fun song,” says Jann. “I grew up with that tune. It’s one that I brought to the table. I think everybody thought that I was stark raving mad. Bob pumped some life into it. Just the piano riff that he had going. That just really clipped it along.”
“Que Sera Sera was such a challenge,” says Bob laughing. “I’m the guy who did the ‘Black’ album (by Metallica) and here I am doing Que Sera Sera? It was surreal cutting it. You know what? It’s a great song. We just had to find the right feel so it didn’t sound dated or a throwaway. We tried about four different kinds of feel to it. Finally, I thought a little bit of The Eagles in the chorus. I went for that really soft Tequila Sunrise, almost country, feel in the chorus. Once we got the chorus, everything else was easy.”
Born in 1962 in Calgary, Jann had been performing locally since she was 14. Canada first met her when she exploded onto national radio with her debut album, Time For Mercy, in 1993.
“When I signed to A&M, I was about to turn 30,” recalls Jann. “That really is unheard of. Allan Reid (then director A&R, A&M Canada) was looking for another Nirvana. That whole Seattle scene had busted wide open; Sinead O’Connor was taking the world by storm with this new idea of a female singer– she knocked down a lot of doors as to what we could look like, and be–and people like Annie Lennox were blazing this trail.”
Jann has since touched a generation of listeners, and brought joy to a lot of people.
She has released 11 highly-acclaimed albums; has had 17 Top Ten singles, including the concert favourites I Would Die for You, Could I Be Your Girl and Insensitive; and has won 8 Juno Awards.
She is the acclaimed author of If I Knew, Don’t You Think I’d Tell You?, I’ll Tell You One Damn Thing, and That’s All I Know! She is also the host of the popular national summer radio program, Being Jann broadcast by CBC-Radio and Sirius Satellite.
In addition to Uncover Me 2, her new book Falling Backwards has been simultaneously released by Random House.
Between her music, her books and her public appearances, Jann strikes more deeply than playing the nation’s comical neighbour who comes in the back door without knocking, and cheers everybody up.
She speaks to people in a profound way, and much of her appeal is pure identification.
“I think that what resonates with Canadians is that I really haven’t changed. I am exactly who you see. I haven’t created a persona. I treat people decently. When they come up to me in the street, I’m not an asshole.”
This is classic Jann; the exaggeration compressed into the stinging one-liner that only slightly overstates a chisel-it-on-my-tombstone truthfulness.
Little wonder that Jann draws a crowd wherever she is. “There’s no screaming or anything like that,” she says. “People just want to say hello, and tell me how they are connected to me, and where they heard a song. It’s like running into friends from high school.”