Janis Ian
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Janis Ian

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"Robert K. Oerman"

Only a handful of the great American troubadours is still creating vital music. Some of the others are dead, some are in creative eclipse, some are forgotten, and better, some are rich and retired.
But Janis Ian endures. - -


Folk is the New Black -2006
Live: Working Without a Net - 2003
Billie's Bones - 2003
God & the FBI - 2000
Hunger - 1997
Revenge - 1995
Breaking Silence - 1993
Uncle Wonderful - 1983
Restless Eyes - 1981
Night Rains - 1979
Janis Ian - 1978
Miracle Row - 1977
Aftertones - 1976
Between the Lines - 1975
Stars - 1974
Present Company - 1971
Who Really Cares - 1969
The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink - 1968
For All the Seasons of Your Mind - 1968
Janis Ian - 1967




Who are the great songwriters in America today?
Not the most popular. Not the richest. Simply the greats.
Ask any student of the form, and Janis Ian will be counted among them The writer of Jesse, a song recorded by so many others that few remember Ian wrote it; Stars, possibly the best song ever written about the life of a performer, recorded by artists as diverse as Mel Torme and Cher; and the seminal At Seventeen, a song that brought her five Grammy nominations (the most any solo female artist had ever garnered) in 1975, which is now reaching its third generation of listeners.
Ian is a formidable talent, a force of nature. Ella Fitzgerald called her “The best young singer in America”. Chet Atkins said “Singer? You ought to hear that girl play guitar; she gives me a run for my money!” Reviewers have called her live performances “overwhelming to the spirit and soul”, and “drenched with such passion, the audience feels they’ve been swept up in a hurricane.” Not to mention her short stories, her songs for film and television… and oh, yes. She also runs a foundation, named for her mother, that supplies college scholarships in perpetuity; they’re working on their ninth.
The glowing reviews come as no surprise to Ian’s loyal fan base, who give her website a stunning quarter million hits per year – even though she hasn’t had a top twenty record here in three decades. Nor to the computer community, who adopted her article “The Internet Debacle” as their Bible against the RIAA’s fight to stop downloaded music. Nor her international fan base, who flock to her concerts and allow her to spend ten months every two years doing sold-out tours of Holland, the United Kingdom, Australia, Japan, Germany, and others too numerous to mention – and these are not club tours, these are concert halls. Nor the science fiction community, who embraced her anthology “Stars” with glowing reviews like the one from Publisher’s Weekly that begins “This dazzling, highly original anthology….”
Quite a broad spectrum of interests and communities, for a woman who started her life on a New Jersey chicken farm.
2006 sees the release of Ian’s twentieth major-label album, and to this writer’s mind, her logical follow-up to the critically acclaimed “Between the Lines”. Titled “Folk Is the New Black”, the album takes no prisoners; from the wry self-deprecating humor of its title song (“Folk is the new black/cheaper than crack/and you don’t have to cook”) to the political (“While politicians lie and cheat to get to higher ground/we follow them like sheep, and salute them as we drown”), to what is possibly the best love-‘em-and-leave-‘em song written in decades (“All those promises that you made me from the start/were filled with emptiness from the desert of your heart”), “Folk Is the New Black” is a songwriter’s tour de force. Never mind that it took decades for her to come full circle; Ian is right back where she started, in the bosom of folk music at its best – older, wiser, her talent honed and sharpened until it cuts so fine, we barely feel the blade slicing through us.
This is not an album for the faint of heart, for timid souls who prefer Britney Spears’ auto-tuned vocals to the voice of real experience. Ian and her two sidekicks (Viktor Kraus on upright bass and guitars, Jim Brock on percussion and drums) recorded the fifteen songs in three days, with all vocals done live. As Ian says, “I wanted to make real music. Forget about perfection; folk music isn’t about that. It’s about heart. So we set the room up as though it were the 60’s, three of us facing one another and playing because we love music. I sang everything live, and I surprised myself. I mean, I know I can sing live – I do it 200 nights a year. But to sing live in the studio, while I’m trying to play my own parts, arrange, and be the producer – I was surprised it came off so well. We had the budget to spend more time, but why? We’d already done what we set out to do.”
Ian has had great success as a co-writer, with cuts by Bette Midler, Kathy Mattea, John Mellencamp and a host of others. But “Folk Is the New Black” is the first album since 1981’s “Restless Eyes” that sees Ian writing 100% of everything.
“It was important to me, writing it all by myself. It was a challenge – could I still do it? Would it be as good? Because to my mind, it all comes down to four words – I serve the song. If you don’t start with great songs, you have nothing.”
For the record, Ian was born April 7, 1951, and started playing the piano at two. Far from being a child prodigy on that instrument, she hated scales and studying, and switched to guitar at age ten. (“I figured out that while you couldn’t carry a piano, you could carry a guitar, and that was it.”) Her first song was written at twelve and recorded on her first album for Verve-Folkways in 1965, which also featured her first hit, Society’s Child. The song ignited controversy from c