Under the covers

Jann Arden takes a heartbreak with Uncover Me, an homage to the songs of her youth. Shannon Webb-Campbell peels back a few layers and looks in.

Uncovered girlJann Arden brings her latest release to light at the Metro
Centre on April 12.

Age agrees with Jann Arden. known for her humorous zeal, hearty stance and sentimentally loaded songs "Insensitive," "Good Mother" and "Could I Be Your Girl," the prominent songwriter has reshaped her perspective, turned up the volume and transformed herself emotionally and physically.

At 45 years old, she recently shed a reported 50 pounds, sifted through the closet of shame, tossed out the outfits of rejection and mopped up her deep puddles of old heartache.

The result of her maturation has been an introspective period for the Alberta native, who dipped into her parent's record collection to formulate Uncover Me, a compilation of cover tunes from the '60s onwards. She unveils her true self on stage at the Metro Centre on April 12.

"I love the record now, it was just hard to make," explains Arden, calling from Nashville while visiting friends. "I just wanted to pick songs that reflected who I was, where I had come from."

Uncover Me was nearly complete last October, but trusted collaborator Russell Boom and Arden were dissatisfied with the results. They scrapped the entire catalogue of spit-polished recordings and started again.

"I was in hell—I had a whole record finished and I didn't think I found the heart of what I was going for," she says. "I like this finished product, these songs were my favourites growing up. By the time Russell and I were finished making it we were sort of sick of everything—art is precarious at the best of times."

Arden converts these classic covers from their natural genial states into epic ballads of sheer vehemence. Cat Stevens' "Peace Train," Carly Simon's "You're So Vain," Petula Clark's "Downtown," a flawless rendition of the Mamas and the Papas' "California Dreamin'" and Janis Ian's teenage tale of transcendence "At Seventeen" litter the liner notes. "Counterfeit Heart," an original ominous ode to a fraudulent love gone sour, is reminiscent of Karen Carpenter's later, moodier, melancholic solo material.

"Ego is not a pleasant thing in human beings, "she says. "It spurs on jealousy, vanity—it's like an evil twin."

Spirituality weaves itself through the lyrics of her music, outside of her vivacious conversational skills and back into the foreground of her mind. Arden exudes benevolence—she seems to be growing into herself. While she experiences the evolution of her years, she is learning to let go of old vices (the past, mostly) and exchanges the essence of empathy for sympathy.

"Our spirits are responsible for the good," she says. "The older you become you're not as concerned with the way you appear or how you appear. I'm much more at ease now. The spirit is the part of humanity that makes us good. Then we have the reality of being human."

The future isn't a subject Arden likes to cover—she appears to be quite content being exactly where she is. "I try and not plan anything. Life is best left to be lived."

She alludes to publishing another anthology of her "meanderings, based on journals" and possibly recording a full-length original album sometime during the fall.

When poked and prodded to comment on the countless articles which fixate on her recent dress size drop—Chatelaine's January issue describes her as "The Incredible Shrinking Jann Arden"—she chuckles.

"The media is a funny beast. People can say what they want, I do things on my own terms," she says. "I always ran, I just do it more now. Maybe it's because I got older, I don't know. My body is going to change numerous times over the course of my life. I've never been unkind to myself."

The last time the electric performer was found in these parts was during a songwriters' circle at 2006's Juno Awards. She sat alongside our boy Joel Plaskett, Martha Wainwright, Ron Sexsmith—who shared embarrassed tales of offering himself to a young Arden many years ago on the road —and Great Big Sea's rather smitten Alan Doyle.

"Good lord. I really don't know him," she says about his on-stage gushing and the reference to a girl named Jannie in Great Big Sea's "Ordinary Day." "It was the first time we met. I think he loves me, seriously. But he's too old for me."

Jann Arden, April 12 at Halifax Metro Centre, 7:30pm, $56, 451-1221.

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