Entertainment
Andrew McMahon is the frontman, lyricist and pianist for Jack's Mannequin.
courtesy James Minchin

Jack's Mannequin fixes up, sounds sharp

California four-piece brings tour and re-worked third album to Calgary

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Jack's Mannequin's most recent album took two tries to get right. Lead singer-songwriter and pianist Andrew McMahon says that there are two ways to look at the recording process for People and Things, released earlier this month: "Either I made a record and scrapped it, or I just made really good demos."

Feeling that the original approach to the record, which McMahon believes relied too heavily on professional production tools, didn't "feel as genuine as it needed to." For the second try, McMahon got together with guitarist Bobby Anderson, bass player Mikey Wagner and percussionist Jay McMillan to work out the new songs and create a record that, according to McMahon, "was more rooted in the ideals behind our live show."

The result, McMahon explains, is a record where you discover that "it's not that the piano's gone. It's that the guitar and everything else is just finding its place through the vehicle of live performance."

But on "Restless Dream," a track originally written for a movie that never saw fruition, the piano is gone -- along with everything but Anderson's country-style finger-picking and McMahon's introspective lyrics. McMahon says that he likes the idea of taking a risk and introducing fans to a "different sonic landscape" underneath his voice.

Other tracks from the album, like first single "My Racing Thoughts" and "Amy, I" stick to the band's trademark piano-driven rock, recalling Elton John mixed with the attitude and melodic sense of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers. Talking of his classic rock influences, McMahon says that there is something "inside of these classical singer-songwriters that I've always tried to channel."

Paying tribute to another one of his biggest influences, McMahon recorded a cover of John Lennon's "God" for the 2007 album Instant Karma: The Amnesty International Campaign to Save Darfur, a Lennon tribute work released as part of Amnesty International's global "Make Some Noise" project.

No stranger to philanthropy, McMahon founded the Dear Jack Foundation in 2006 following his personal victory over leukemia, an organization created to fund research, raise awareness and help young adults suffering from the disease cope.

McMahon's struggle with the illness was documented on the band's second album, 2008's The Glass Passenger -- a defining feature of which was his deeply personal lyrics and emotionally vulnerable songwriting.

"I don't really know how to write about anything else . . . which can be a blessing and curse to say the least . . . all I really know is to write my truths."

Going from the topic of songwriting to touching on the potential of future albums, McMahon says that he loves the band he plays with and hopes to continue playing with them, but he's not sure if he will continue to perform under the name "Jack's Mannequin." For now, the band is focused on wrapping up their North American tour in November, including a stop at the university's own MacEwan Ballroom on the second of that month.

Nowhere are the lyrical truths that McMahon swears by more evident than on People and Things -- the songs are honest and the music is genuine. It might have taken a whole album of discarded songs for People and Things to come to fruition, but it's clear that for Jack's Mannequin, the second time is the charm.

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