Janis Ian — The Light at the End of the Line
The legendary songwriter Janis Ian never shied away from tough subjects in her songwriting and her latest album is no exception. But the beauty of her songwriting is in its simplicity and ability to deliver deep emotions, and here she delivers both.
The aptly-named The Light at the End of the Tunnel, out Friday, Jan. 21, on her own Rude Girl Records will also be the final solo album of her nearly six decades long career.
Ian enlisted the help of a star-studded cast of top musicians including Diane Schuur, Vince Gill, John Cowan, Andrea Zonn, Randy Leago, Jim Agee, and Viktor Krauss.
The album opens with “I’m Still Standing,” a beautiful song reminding us all that she’s still here, and embracing her 70 years of life. “See these lines on my face? They’re a map of where I’ve been…”
“Resist” features Ian’s biting songwriting about all the ways in which women have been sexually demoralized. It’s almost punk rock in its opening mantra “She is, she is, she is,” but then breaks into a jazzy more rock and roll beat. The lyrics are gritty and raw, and powerful.
Her songwriting has lost none of its edge since she penned her first lyrics at the age of 14 about a sensitive topic back then—interracial dating.
And her voice has lost none of its beauty. It’s just as clear and melodic as it was when she first sang “At Seventeen,” 50+ years ago, barely out of her teens herself.
The 13 songs on this album offer up Ian’s powerful insight through her songwriting, but also a lighter touch in celebrating some of the things she loves.
“Nina,” a piano ballad, is an ode to her tortured hero, Nina Simone. “Summer in New York,” is a love song to the city she loves, in all it’s sweaty glory, with gorgeous, smoky vocals, soulful piano, and sax. “Swannanoa,” has the feel of an old spiritual or gospel song, wistful and longing for that place called home. But in this case, home is The Swannanoa Gathering, at Warren Wilson College. Ian wrote the song for the 25th anniversary of the gathering in 2016, after living and teaching there a few years earlier.
Her clear melodic vocals are laid gently over acoustic guitar on tracks like “Stranger,” “Wherever Good Dreams Go,” and the title track “The Light at the End of the Line.”
“Dark Side of the Sun,” features more melancholy guitar to accompany moodier lyrics.
Ian leaves us with a modern-day folk protest/hope singalong. “Better Times Will Come,” was written the day after John Prine died, she said, and delivers the kind of hopeful voice we all need right now. Yes, indeed, “when this world learns to live as one, better times will come.”