I like things that are reliable, like the threadbare comfort of my Sevens jeans, Starbucks skim lattes and a dog’s love. Meryl Streep movies come with an unspoken guarantee too—it’s gonna be gripping and as raw as ceviche.
And when Jann Arden releases a new CD, I expect it’s going to be high-wattage. The lyrics are going to have an injection of unbearable sadness and resonate in my waking hours and sleep. I know that I will fall under the spell that is her voice because her haunting words are a demolition team that attack the fragile architecture of the human heart.
We know her talent is ethereal and that her vocal cords mimic yoga positions. But her true gift is the ability to write songs that everyone can identify with and sob over. Genderless, ageless, timeless—her songs become national anthems for break-ups and the soundtracks for our memories.
Jann’s new CD, Free, captures the sense of wonder that unexpectedly smacks us when we see doves take to the sky, when shooting stars spike through the dark of night and when freefall divers split gravity in two. Free. The freedom is palpable and instantly captured in the imagery of having “one last hurrah on the old tire swing,” in “Daughter Down.”
Jann Arden bleeds beauty. “All The Days” is the track that hits me like baseball bat in the ribs every time. “And all the days will wrap around our fingers /They’ll hang around our hearts like bits of stars/ And all the tears we counted all the memories that we thought would linger disappear/ oh, they disappear.” I’ve decided, at the end of my days, I want “All The Days.” (And no silly flowers, just generous donations to my chimps and all the cats and dogs waiting for their forever homes).
“All The Days” instantly hit number one on my “Crying Tears Down My Neck” list. “Wind Beneath My Wings” was kicked to the curb with “When You Say Nothing At All” (Allison Krauss) and the Indigo Girls “I Don’t Want to Talk About It.” See ya later “Your Song,” that one can’t even make me sniffle anymore.
It will come as no surprise that I love well-crafted stories and song lyrics that are as layered as Jennifer Aniston’s hair. I read the liner notes of Free before I even listened to the CD. I loved “Everybody’s Broken” before I heard it because of Clara-Marie. “Eighty-five years she’s been living right here when they took her from her home/To her little white room with a cup and a spoon and the dress that she had on/Nobody came they’ve forgotten her name it’s like she disappeared.”
Those words don’t even need to be sung. There is no need for violas, guitars, bonjirs or mandolas. They are powerful in tandem with Jann’s voice, but I am already moved by the fragility of Billy Wolfe and Clara-Marie, and her mother making pink lemonade.
The tracks “You Are Everything,” “Away” and “Yeah You” are the love letters that we all hope to receive. Letters that would be re-read until memorized and re-folded until the ink blurred and the paper deteriorated. Letters that are hidden in secret places to be rediscovered later as the treasures that they are.
“You’re the galaxy/A better part of me/And there is nothing that is bigger than the two of us.” Who doesn’t want to hear that? No thanks to the pretty blue Tiffany box, no to the Godiva chocolate and any other foolish romantic notions—but words like that? You’re the galaxy? And to think Renee Zwelleger had Tom Cruise at “hello” in Jerry Maguire. I have higher expectations than “hello.” I want “you are everything that’s good about the universe.” Or better yet—“you are everything you dream of when you’re nine years old.”
Wow. Why buy Hallmark cards anymore? Just send a few lines from “You Are Everything,” and the wooing will be done and the wedding dress bought online in the same night.
Free is versatile–suitable for a big breakdown cry when your eyes are as pink as cotton candy and you’re so dehydrated you can’t even make tears anymore. Free illustrates what love should be –flying kites and shooting stars. It demonstrates the invincible bulletproof quality of true love that conquers geography, worry, naysayers and the world. Free reminds us of those we may have forgotten in our own selfish pursuits—like Clara-Marie and Billy Wolfe. We all know them.
Today Free played a part of our daily lives: intimate moments, lonely hours, crossed arms, shared glasses of wine, comfortable silences, foot massages, first kisses, cold pizza, camembert tarte tatin, braised short ribs with porcini mushroom stew, corn chips, gridlock on the 401, a slow dance in front of the fire, proposals, sweaty work-outs, yelling neighbours, purring cats, barking dogs, daydreaming, uncertainty, tears. Already the songs on Free have infiltrated our lives and will continue to weave their way into many faces, loves, celebrations and devastations over the years, just as Jann’s other songs reliably have.
I’ve run with Jann everywhere. Sloppy trails in BC and Banff, in half-marathons with cramping quads, behind runners supporting Terry Fox and those who survived cancer, along the dusty roads of Uganda, Panama, Costa Rica, the Galapagos, Amsterdam…she’s followed me all over the world.
Like the wind and the sun, we have Jann Arden’s music at our backs as well. Her songs are the best told stories, with words that stabilize our memories like quick-set cement.
Thank you, Jann, for the grace and essence that is you. And for sharing that Titanic talent with us.