2018 Cambridge Folk Festival Headliner and 10 time Grammy nominee Janis Ian will have 5 of her most important albums reissued on 25 May 2018. Recorded between 1974-1978 when Janis firmly established herself as a platinum selling international artist, with 7 Grammy nominations across these albums, this body of work represents a benchmark in quality amongst the great female singer-songwriters of our times. All 5 albums have been lovingly remastered from the original tapes, overseen by Grammy-award winning Steve Berkowitz. They’re being released on 180g vinyl and CD, with vinyl artwork faithfully replicating that of the original pressings.
Stars (1974) After beginning her recording career at the age of fourteen, Janis took a long hiatus “to figure out whether I could ever write the kind of songs I wanted to write.” She returned with the ground-breaking Stars (1974) album. Layered with hauntingly beautiful melodies and astute lyrics, album highlights include ‘Jesse’, a classic song that is soul-wrenchingly poignant (it would be majestically covered by Roberta Flack) whilst the album’s unforgettable title track was recently featured in the award-winning documentary film Whatever Happened, Miss Simone? In one of the film’s most powerful scenes Nina Simone delivers a captivating performance of the song, crediting Ian at the top and taking Ian’s brilliant lyrics to a higher ground.
Between The Lines (1975) While this album is home to Janis’s biggest international hit, At Seventeen, the whole album captures Janis at her intimate best with an engaging blend of pop/rock, jazz and blues. Songs such as Between the Lines, Watercolors, ‘Tea & Sympathy’ and ‘From Me To You’ are classic vignettes, and the album is a resplendent listen. ‘At Seventeen’ became a Grammy winner as well as a chart-topping single, with the album receiving 5 Grammy nominations (the most for any female solo artist to that date) and two Grammy Awards.
Aftertones (1976) Another gold album for Janis in the United States, England, Ireland, and Netherlands, with the single ‘Love is Blind” sitting at number one for a full year in Japan, and the album itself #1 for six months. A critical success, featuring an eclectic group of friends and musicians, among them Phoebe Snow, Odette, and legendary bass player Richard Davis (Sarah Vaughan, Van Morrison).
Miracle Row (1977) Then living in the Spanish Harlem area of New York, Janis followed Aftertones with the Latin-influenced Miracle Row. As with Ian’s previous albums, Miracle Row’s lyrics reflect and share her contemplative and insightful snapshots of time and place, none more so than on tracks like ‘Candlelight’ (covered by the late Barbara Cook), ‘Party Lights’, an acerbic look at the rise of cocaine use in America, and ‘Will You Dance’, again a record-breaking #1 single in Japan. ‘Maria’ was, so far as we know, the first ‘gay’ love song to be released by a mainstream artist. This was also the first major album for engineer Leanne Ungar, who went on to record seminal albums with, among others, Leonard Cohen and Laurie Anderson.
Night Rains (1979) The self-produced Night Rains was the first album to give Janis platinum records in the rest of the world, notably Australia, Europe, the UK, S. Africa, Scandinavia, and the Mideast. At Janis’ request, Giorgio Moroder co-wrote and produced the first single, ‘Fly Too High’, which became a major hit and appeared as the title song to the Jodie Foster/Adrian Lyne film Foxes. The follow-up, ‘The Other Side of the Sun’, likewise garnered International attention, cementing Ian’s place as a world-renowned artist and writer.
Once again, Janis brought in world-class musicians, including Ron Carter (bass), Richie Havens (percussion), and Ian herself on a piano/vocal duet with Chick Corea.
All in all these are beautiful rereleases by a wonderful artist at a wonderful time of their career. If you haven’t heard of Janis and want to hear sublime folk, acoustic tunes to get you through this summer then these releases are for you.
All words by Matt Mead. You can find further articles by Matt via the Louder Than War author archive page.