Janis Ian—The Light at the End of the Line

2022, Rude Girl Records


This is an album that could only be made by an artist whose life’s work has been to write and sing from her heart. Janis Ian has never sounded better. She still has a lot to say and knows how to sing it and back it up with some fine guitar work. Although her songs are often on an intimate level, focussed and emotionally telling, she has never shied from commenting on societal issues. Janis considers “I’m Still Standing,” a song that embraces the lines that time brings to one’s face, as an update to “At Seventeen.” She is more sure at seventy as perhaps she was not at seventeen, that “Only lovers understand/ Skin just covers who I am.” “Resist” could be seen as the evolution of the girl in “At Seventeen” to the woman who calls out the ingrained misogyny of our culture. The thump and grind of the band and Janis’s biting guitar underscore the righteous anger of the song. The next song, “Stranger” needs only Ian’s quietly expressive vocals and exquisitely picked guitar, to explore the many ways an immigrant experiences being a stranger, which is even more heartbreaking when they are deported after establishing a life here. “Wherever Good Dreams Go” is specifically a song Ian wrote for a friend who lost a child, but it morphs as one listens to fill the empty spaces in one’s own heart. “Do you see me down here/ Talking to the empty air?/ In my memories of you,/ I’m just a little closer to/ Wherever good dreams go up there.” You will find yourself incapable of doing anything but listen as she sings the simple hope that love endures. “Nina” is a complex tribute to Nina Simone. Although it was not easy to be her friend, Ian’s respect and admiration are summed up, “you were always beautiful to me.” “Perfect Little Girl” is inspired by Cindy Bullens who  has transitioned to Cid Bullens. This song is such a good example of what makes Janis Ian’s work special. Her songs connect emotionally, from phrase to phrase, even before you know what the song is “about” on a literal level. “Better Times Will Come” is a song conceived during the pandemic that inspired the Better Times Will Come Project. Ian is joined by an all-star cast on the tune and I can’t help thinking that the spirit of Pete Seeger was with them as they sang. The Light at the End of the Line is a flame kept burning with care, dedication, talent and craft. Ian’s power to illuminate has grown with her as she shines her honest light further into her life and the lives of all of us who have spent a lifetime loving her music. —Michael Devlin

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