Acoustic Kitty is the debut solo album from John Mann, front man of Spirit of the West. This recording finds Mann at the top of his game in songwriting. The vocal friendly production of Michael Phillip Wojewoda (Barenaked Ladies, Spirit of the West, Rheostatics) gratifyingly supports Mann's singing in this album of lyrically-driven songs full of honesty and humour. Quite frankly, Mann's voice has never sounded better.
Acoustic Kitty grew from the creative seeds planted during three weeks in the Yukon in July of 2000. Having thought about writing a solo album for years, Mann began to put this album together while taking part in The Yukon Journey Project, which brought Canadian artists from a wide range of disciplines to spend three weeks in the territory. Each artist was expected to create something based on the experience. Mann came out of the trip with the starting point for an album. Both 'Somebody's Miracle', one of Mann's favourite album tracks, and 'Come Along With Me Tonight' were inspired by the project.
Mann's songs are beautifully put together pieces; a mixture of personal experience and acoustic investigations of abstract notions. He rewards us with a pared-back style which supports both the voice and the words. Showcasing this lyrically driven approach is the song, 'A Lot To Learn'. As Mann sings,
"You've got a lot to learn and I can help you to forget You've got a lot to learn and I can show you How to deal with your regret I've got a lot to give, you bet"
â€¦â€¦..he creates a scene of a man simultaneously consoling and coming on to a woman whose partner has left her. Mann says," One of my favourite books is Nick Hornby's, 'High Fidelity'. I read it and thought, the gig is up, now every woman will know how men really think. This is my little snapshot of a similar theme".
Other subjects are less fictional; based more on personal experience. While touring in Alberta, Mann played a bar which featured bikini clad women serving the patrons. The situation turned increasingly bizarre when the women returned the following morning dressed in lingerie and serving breakfast in the hotel restaurant next door to retired couples and families. The scene is described in the playful but affecting, 'Red Deer?'.
After having spent his 'formative years' with Spirit of the West, Mann has found the solo song writing freeing. " With the band, we arrange songs on a consensus basis, which works well but you don't always get what you had envisioned. It felt good to have my own ideas and realize them without so much compromise. It was as close as I've come to being a benevolent dictator and I must admit I rather liked it".
As for the writing Mann states, 'I prefer to be able to write when I feel the urge although as a parent of two kids, I don't often have that luxury. As a result I tend to start writing songs in the car and since I don't drive with a guitar in my lap, they often start with a vocal melody which I phone in to my home answering machine. This usually leads to an inspired first verse and chorus and then I stall out after the initial rush of creation subsides. This album was good for me in that I had to follow my song writing through to the end without leaning on someone else to help me through the tough and boring bits".
Mann is looking forward to taking Acoustic Kitty on the road with a lean outfit consisting of just himself and either multi-instrumentalist, Ford Pier or bassist Doug Elliott. He hopes to play dates across Canada and the US as well as Overseas. "I learned from Spirit of the West that we did a lot more overseas touring when we were a three piece as opposed to the current five piece outfit. I want to make touring affordable, keep it trimmed down so that I can keep my traveling options open. But who knows, if things are going well I may do something outrageous like expand to an acoustic power trio".
Although best know for his work with Spirit of the West, Mann is a jack-of-all-trades, with a body of work ranging from creating award winning soundscapes for theatre, to acting in film, TV and theatrical productions. " I'm loving the variety of being involved in different projects, different worlds. The acting has lifted the burden of making a living off of my music and I enjoy playing and writing more because of that. Making 'Acoustic Kitty' has reaffirmed my love for making music. More and more I find myself picking up the guitar and strumming just for own enjoyment. I haven't done that for a long while. It's a great feeling."