Album Review: Jann Arden – Living Under June (1994)

I feel as though I have started many a review with this phrase but it is more than appropriate again here as Jann Arden is yet another one of the seemingly endless stream of talented female singer songwriters from the environs of Canada. Her first album “Time For Mercy” released in 1993 had provided her with a Canadian hit and a prestigious Juno award for best video courtesy of the track ‘I Would Die For You’ so this follow up “Living Under June” was highly anticipated.

The ten track virtually all self penned album kicks off with ‘Could I Be Your Girl’ which was also chosen as the lead off single. A nice upbeat poppy track with country and gospel undertones, as well as a decent guitar solo, it not only hit the number one spot in Canada but also scooped the Juno for single of the year. It was also her first success in the US.

The country feel is even more to the fore with the second track ‘Demolition Love’, due mostly to the very twangy guitar. Arden provides a dreamy passion filled vocal which prevents the song from becoming too countrified and twee. The guitar sound is far crisper even if it is still a little twangy in places on ‘Looking For It’. Once again Arden delivers a fine vocal but the acoustic guitar which punctuates the song is the real highlight and gives the track its identity. 

‘Insensitive’ is the only non Arden penned track on the album and was written by Anne Loree. Curiously though it has to date provided Arden with her biggest world wide success as it reached the lofty heights of number twelve on thev US singles chart. A far more poppy and commercial sounding track than the others here it is not difficult to see why it achieved the radio play it did as it has a very catchy hook. So much so in fact that it was used in the film Bed Of Roses and also as an advertising jingle for a well known brand of jeans in Italy ! 

‘Gasoline’ is the first of three rockier tracks and has the same sort of feel as a mid to late eighties Robert Plant arrangement, especially in the backing vocal and riffing departments. ‘Wonderdrug’ meanwhile has a rather strange introduction before it continues with the rockier sound. For me it has a Jonatha Brooke feel to it. The third of the rockier tracks is the title track ‘Living Under June’. Lyrically and vocally it is as good as any track on the album. The vocal melody in particular is very pleasing as is the guitar break towards the end but the whole track is slightly ruined for me by the electronic sounding backing which takes something away from feel of the track. 

Things slow down considerably for the gentle sensitive ballad of ‘Unloved’. Once again Arden delivers a faultless vocal on a very atmospheric track and she is joined in a vocal duet by Jackson Browne. It is difficult to fault Arden’s performance and even though Browne struggles with the key at the end of a couple of lines it adds to the effect rather that detracts from it. The recurrent guitar is also a nice touch. 

‘Good Mother’ takes us back to the more rock pop sound of the earlier tracks and it is not difficult to imagine a young Chantal Kreviazuk being influenced by it as she wrote her debut album a couple of years later.

The album ends with something of a surprise as the country pop and rock is replaced by smoochy jazz. ‘It Looks Like Rain’ immediately transports you to a smoky jazz bar of yesteryear and Arden provides a pitch perfect vocal over a lone piano that would be the envy of many a performer of a blues or jazz style of singing. If there was any doubt prior to this that Arden deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as the finest female voices of her generation then ‘It Looks Like Rain’ surely puts it to bed. 

In a bid to get Arden more exposure outside Canada A&M decided to add the hit from her debut album ‘I Would Die For You’ to the end of the album as a bonus track on all of the issues apart from the original Canadian one. As good a marketing idea as that may be it does sort of ruin the effect of ‘It Looks Like Rain’ as the perfect album closer. ‘I Would Die For You’ has a pretty fast tempo and was actually the opening cut of the debut album so maybe positioning it earlier in the album would have been a better option. 

“Living Under June” was released in August 1994 in Canada, although it was held back until early in 1995 elsewhere. It gave Arden three hits in Canada, ‘Could I Be Your Girl’, ‘Insensitive’ and “Good Mother” as well as her first major International successes with ‘Insensitive’ in Italy and the US.  It also gave her two more Juno awards, best single for ‘Could I Be Your Girl’ and best video for ‘Good Mother’. 

“Living Under June” is a fine album and can easily be recommended to anyone with an ear for a good female singer songwriter. There isn’t a bad track on it and its only flaws are that in places it does sound a little over produced and it lacks the one big stand out track that will keep you coming back to it automatically. When you do revisit it though it makes you think “I should listen to that more often” as rather than having high highs and low lows it is an album of consistent quality. Jann Arden’s vocal ability is second to none, as is her songwriting, and it remains something of a mystery to me why she hasn’t achieved the same level of international success as the likes of someone like Sarah McLachlan for example. She appears to have suffered a similar fate as that of Chantal Kreviazuk and Jonatha Brooke, to name but two, in that she is a major player in Canada and the US but in England and Europe is lauded by only an enlightened few. You could do far worse than to join us.

© Martin Leedham 2012. First published on RYM June 2012.

About Martin Leedham

Music critic, Horse Racing Tipster, Hapless Dreamer, Defender of the Underdog
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