Laugh, cry, laugh cry… it’s another entertaining evening with Alberta’s favourite songbird, Jann Arden.
The multiple Juno Award-winner performed emotive songs of love and loss for an enthusiastic full-house crowd at Red Deer’s Memorial Centre on Good Friday.
But before anyone could wallow too much in melancholy or introspection, she repeatedly cracked fans up with her salty humour.
“Thank you for coming out on Easter — you heathens,” quipped Arden, doing an 180-degree-spin from her plaintive performance of Unloved.
The Calgary-area singer’s gorgeously expressive voice seems to improve with age.
It allowed her to pull off exquisitely sensitive renditions of songs about loneliness and longing, such as Solitaire and Wishing That, with a trio of backup musicians.
She then joked: “Good to get (these) uptempo songs out of the way. We can now just ease on down the road…”
At one point, she lamely attempted to climb, Carol Burnett-style, onto the electric keyboard so she could lounge on it.
“This is very Tim Conway,” Arden observed, to howls of laughter.
While she delivered virtually every tune standing centre stage with a guitar, she told the audience, “I hope you are enjoying our new choreography…the four of us worked with Paula Abdul for seven months…”
Arden credited the 1970s mail-order business Columbia House Records for getting her on the right career track.
The company once sent her a Janis Ian record, which got her hooked on songwriting.
She performed a heart-tugging version of Ian’s ode to awkward girls, At Seventeen, and a more fanciful cover of Elton John’s Rocket Man, highlighting the tune’s nonsensical lyrics.
A song doesn’t have to make sense, it just has to make you feel something, Arden explained.
As for her huge hit, Insensitive, she revealed it had random origins.
Arden once walked to a local coffee shop by a different route than usual and heard a song being played that she couldn’t get out of her head.
She eventually recorded Insensitive, written by Anne Loree, and it became a career-making international hit.
“It altered the course of my life — all because I decided to go right out my front door, instead of left,” said the singer, who went on to do a zen-like rendition of it.
Arden also performed The Devil Won, accompanied by lovely viola playing by Allison Cornell, and her “favourite,” The Sound Of, with the poetic line: “Oh, the sound of the wind through my bones…”
The bittersweet Everything Almost was co-written with Cornell, who has also backed Shania Twain and Cyndi Lauper.
“I was hoping that adding Allison to the equation would make me less depressing, but it wasn’t the case,” said Arden, who also performed the crowd-pleasers I Would Die For You, Good Mother and Will You Remember Me.
The singer, who turned 54 on Sunday, got a birthday cake from her tech crew and an impromptu “Happy Birthday” serenade from the Red Deer audience.
She spotlighted her long-serving and immensely talented backup trio in various ways during the show.
The three musicians were also fantastic vocalists as they performed tunes that inspired them.
Guitarist Graham Powell did a raspy rendition of Bryan Adams’ Cuts Like a Knife, while violist and mandolin player Cornell performed a pared-down, snappier version of Arden’s Wonderdrug.
Keyboardist Darcy Phillips, who went to high school at Lindsay Thurber in Red Deer and now lives in Victoria, B.C., credited his teacher (and later long-term city councillor) Dennis Moffat, for introducing him to a band that made him want to become a musician.
Phillips did a terrific version of The Beatles’ Lady Madonna for an appreciative hometown audience.
Arden wrapped up the concert with Counting Mercies from her 2014 album Everything Almost.
The song is a touching departure from her more downhearted material, suggesting we should be grateful for the good things in life, and kind to ourselves.
“It’s hard being human,” said Arden.
Her relatable music reminds us that everyone has the same hopes and vulnerabilities — which is why fans love her.