Janis Ian is one of my heroes. How many performers can claim a forty-year career in the music business and still remain at the top of their form? And how many singer/songwriters have written songs that people not only remember and hold dear, but have actually changed lives? Society's Child and At Seventeen immediately come to mind.
Janis Ian Live is a compilation of songs, taken from over thirty years of live recordings in places as disparate as the London Royal Festival Hall in England, and the Blue Note Club in Fukuoka, Japan. The end result is a living, breathing vital document of Ian's concert performances from the 1990's through the summer of 2003. As Ian points out in over three pages of introductory material - fascinating reading and reason enough to purchase this double CD set - songs were chosen as representative of her best performances rather than her most "perfectly executed" work. The result of these choices, I think, will leave both the most ardent fan and casual listener breathless.
The songs found here follow Ian through her entire career - from the beginnings with Society's Child, At Seventeen and Stars through her most recent work on god and the fbi, and everything in between.
The recording appropriately opens with a stirring rendition of This Train Still Runs from Ian's 1992 release, Breaking the Silence. This track, along with four others, was recorded at an October 1995 concert at the previously mentioned London Royal Festival Hall.
Jesse was recorded in January 1996 at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, Scotland. It begins a cappella, slowly and movingly, with a bit of guitar coming in at the end of the first stanza. You can imagine the audience listening in rapt attention, moved by the melody and the words. It is a classic song - one of the greats.
The power of Society's Child, a song Ian wrote when she was fourteen, has not diminished over time. This version was recorded in Fort Myers, Florida in October 2002. The lyrics and the voice still hold the audience in thrall. And if you weren't there in the mid-Sixties when Ian caused a nation to sit up and take notice, listening to this song will fill you in on just what made her a legend and a star.
The second disc of the set opens with an introduction to probably Ian's best-loved song, Stars. Spoken from the heart at an April 2003 concert at the University of Montana, Ian tells the audience that she wrote this song in response to being called a "has-been" at nineteen. The lyrics are real and heartbreakingly true — "they'll never know the pain of living with a name you never owned / or the many years forgetting what you know too well" — as only Ian can write them.
All I will say here about At Seventeen is that the introduction alone will bring tears to your eyes.
There is a lot of serious stuff here, but there is a lot of fun, too. Cosmopolitan Girl follows a twenty-something about town with her hormones all abuzz. Boots Like Emmy Lou's aspires to be the quintessential Nashville tune. And Ian closes out the recording with the song that Nancy Sinatra made famous, These Boots are Made for Walking.
I can't imagine what the world would be like without Janis Ian in it: her voice, her music and her songs. Janis Ian Live: Working Without a Net is Ian's autobiography in song. It is an essential purchase for every music lover's collection. Let's hope that the next fifty years bring more classic Ian performances and songs. This train still runs...and runs...and runs!
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