Jann Arden - These Are The Days
These Are The Days is the kind of record that will compel you to throw your radio in the trash. After a collection of songs like this, the regular dose of disposable swill is simply hard to take. Listening to the banal weekend exploits of fame-starved glamour hounds is an exercise in patience when given the option of listening to the new album (yeah I called it an album) by the national treasure (Canadian) known as Jann Arden.
Other people write songs for you to listen to. Jann writes songs for you to feel and identify with. All of her eight previous studio recordings have yielded catchy but personal diary entries but none have resonated as much as this new record which positively bubbles with various stages of life experience.
Producer and co-writer Bob Rock (Metallica, Motley Crue) plays a huge part in the success of this record with his contributions to the varying moods of song but ultimately the project succeeds because of the it factor from Jann. Her voice, always expressive, wraps around every syllable and demands your attention even when she's at her most vulnerable. Her vibe. Her lyrics. Every single song validates itself with one listen. You know you're getting a little bit of her with every song, like a diary put to music.
Right from the get-go, you know this is not a typical Arden record. The first track is "Everybody's Pulling on Me" and the blaring horns signal something special after the first few notes. When Jann lets loose with a falsetto, it also signifies something other than what we've come to expect --- to great effect. What's that old saying? --- a change is as good as a rest. Not that there was anything wrong with the old but I love the fact she is willing to try something new.
Next up is "Little Bird" which sounds like it was lifted directly from the atmosphere surrounding Rock's home studio in Hawaii. A thumping drum beat drives this song, setting it aside from anything Jann has done previously. Great production from Rock as the song shifts into swing mode by the third line. This song is another slight sidestep that works tremendously well.
Jann has always had a close relationship with her parents and both have suffered significant health problems in the last decade. Jann moved them into a residence on her property several years ago. Eventually her father passed and shortly after that her mother began a war against Alzheimers as well. The next two songs speak directly to her mother's situation and no one has ever illustrated the emotional carnage that comes from that more accurately.
"Leave the Light On", in my opinion, is the firm foundation that this record sits on --- easily the best song Jann has ever written. Musically stark and lyrically conveying a sense of loss ("I never pictured life alone in a house surrounded by trees. That you'd lose yourself, lose track of time. Not recognize me,") while also desperately optimistic, ("I keep my eye on the road for when you come home to me.") Darkly addictive, this song has already trudged miles in my ear canals. Good god, this song is at once compelling and isolating. The line "Can you come out to play?" creates the loneliest and forlorn ambience ever. Yet, I can't stop playing it. The song conjures up an image of the author clinging to a hope that she knows fully well is unattainable yet for personal comfort, is something that beyond reason remains optimistic --- at least maybe until she can come to terms with the outcome.
Equally beautiful is "A Long Goodbye", this song is clearly about Jann coming to terms with her Mom's descent into memory loss. "I've seen you standing in a room, wondering what's inside your head, in a moment that existed in a time that's long been spent. I'm going to wrap my arms around the day you and I have left. Because it's hard to be a mother to my mother." Fittingly, the sparse instrumentation really pushes the lyrics to the forefront where you can really feel the despair emanating from the words. Melodically perfect, the framework showcases another of Jann's best works.
"Come Down to the River With Me" washes the somber mood away with its rollicking rhythm and strong imagery. "Franklin" has Arden back in familiar territory, expertly telling a story about a relationship gone south --- this is a song that will grow on you with repeated listenings.
Another curveball comes with the first single, "Not Your Little Girl". Apparently it was recorded in one take with Jann reading off some of the hastily scribbled lyrics from a crumpled paper with the tape rolling. The vocals are delivered in a slight hip-hop style which makes it stand out and the minor key verses shift to a surprising major key chorus giving it further emphasis. Lyrically it's confident --- one might say defiant, and a warning to all who would underestimate her.
"All the Little Things" is along the same lines of "Franklin" and by that I don't mean it's a carbon copy. Rather, just that it's a song about a broken relationship that, when it's injected with Jann's humorous sensibilities, becomes entertaining listening. "You sent a rubber glove filled with candy hearts. What the hell was that about?" she asks. Musically-speaking the almost lullaby-like verses are great but the chorus is to die for!
"One More Mile to Go" tromps on the accelerator and adds some well-time rockin' to the mix. Its inclusion is like checking off the ingredients for a perfect and well-balanced musical cake. "Perfect Symphony" is another of my favorites, dark but absolutely beautiful.
The record concludes with the title track and gives an almost odd sense of comfort after all of the preceding drama. Tranquil and soothing, there is a Jane Siberry feel about this one and it's a perfect set closer.
Jann came to prominence with her sophomore record Living Under June which counted the hits "Insensitive" and "Could I Be Your Girl" among its treasures. That record is among my very favorite all-time records and subsequent releases, although very good, have not rivaled the greatness of that disc, in my opinion (however 2014's Everything Almost is a very strong contender). These Are the Days easily stands shoulder to shoulder with Living Under June and can perhaps in some ways eclipse it by virtue of the emotional wallop of several songs. Arguably, this is Jann Arden's finest moment.
Preview and purchase the album here.
Visit Jann's official homepage here
Jann Arden - These Are The Days