New album "Billie's Bones" (COOKCD285) Released 23rd February 2004
Rolling Stone once stated, "Before there
was Jewel, there was Janis Ian." It is an apt portrayal of an artist known
for her ethereal vocals, poetic wordplay, literate phrasing, and sublime melodies.
Through more than three decades, Ian has managed to keep folk music fresh and
inspiring, always winning praise for her remarkable songwriting and tender voice.
At the age of 15, Ian's career exploded with the release of her controversial tale of interracial love, "Society's Child." The self-penned song topped the charts and created a storm of discussion that featured Ian on The Tonight Show and in Life, Look, Time and Newsweek. Her debut album, 1967's Janis Ian, earned Ian the first of nine Grammy nominations.
Ian soared to new heights in the 1970s with her trio of masterpiece albums: Stars, Between the Lines, and Aftertones. Stars included the hit song "Jesse," which Roberta Flack made a pop standard. Between The Lines propelled Ian to superstardom with "At Seventeen." The single sold more than a million copies and Ian was nominated for a then-unprecedented five Grammy awards, winning two. Aftertones proved to be one of the most critically acclaimed albums of its day and featured Ian's friends Odetta and Phoebe Snow as supporting vocalists.
Ian entered the '80s with the international disco hit "Fly Too High," a song featured on the soundtrack of the Jodie Foster movie Foxes. It began a successful string of projects for films. Ian has scored and/or contributed title tunes to such movies as Virus (1980), Betrayal (1977), The Bell Jar (1979), Falling From Grace (1992) and Four Rode Out (1969). She has also contributed to such television projects as the ABC Movie of the Week Freedom (1981) and the hit series Murder She Wrote. Ian's songs have been featured on shows as diverse as The Simpsons, General Hospital, and Oz.
Ian was honored again by the Recording Academy in 1981 with a Best Vocal Duet nomination for her recording with Mel Torme on Ian's composition, "Silly Habits."
Throughout the 70s and 80s, Ian took a break to study acting with Stella Adler, also studying ballet with Dora Krannig of the Royal Ballet. "They were both things that kept me involved in the arts, but gave me a break from my own work", she says now.
Ian reemerged in 1993 with Breaking Silence, which tackled controversial material like the Holocaust, domestic violence and open eroticism, and which was nominated for a Grammy as Best Folk Album. 1995's Revenge examined the issues of homelessness and prostitution. Returning to recording with a vengeance, she released Revenge in 1995, Hunger in 1997, and God And The FBI in 2000.
In 2003, Ian added author to her long list of accomplishments with the publication of her first book project, an anthology titled, Stars: Stories Based on the Lyrics of Janis Ian.
"I've always been an avid reader," Ian says. "If
I don't have a book in the car, I'll stop and pick one up just to have something
to read. I don't even remember learning to read. My dad was a big science fiction
reader, so I started pretty young. I was corresponding with science fiction
writers Mike Resnick and Anne McCaffrey and found myself attending the 2001
World Science Fiction Convention. Somewhere in the middle of the convention,
Mike said he wanted to do an anthology based on my lyrics. I said no one would
be interested in that. He said he had five writers lined up!" Ian also
contributed her own story to the anthology; four of her short stories in the
field will be published during 2003/2004.
The summer of 2003 also saw Ian marry her partner of 14 years, criminal defense attorney Patricia Snyder.
"We got married because we could, which seems like a pretty good reason to get married," Ian says. "If we could have gotten married in the United States, we would have. When the opportunity to get married in Canada presented itself, we grabbed it. As a couple, we wanted the same rights and the same social recognition our heterosexual friends have. We also got married because just like coming out, public figures need to do that to make the rest of the world aware. I think it's important that people are aware because at the end of the day it's a civil rights issue. It's the right to marry who you want to marry regardless of color, regardless of religion, regardless of gender. How can you arbitrate someone else's right to rights?"
Quickly following her marriage, Ian released the double live CD Working Without A Net, a collection of performances she has been recording since 1990.
"We started taping the shows just for archives," Ian says. "But, the fans have been asking for a live record for decades. We had about 300 shows on tape. For fans that live in Poland, Korea, Malaysia and other places we don't tour, this is a chance to hear a real live show. For fans that have seen the show, it's a chance to take back something that's pretty close to a memory of that show and recreate the feeling. For me, it's a nice way of being able to hear some living, breathing history of my own work."
The release of her 18th studio album, Billie's Bones, is the latest achievement in Ian's remarkable career. Billie's Bones beautifully showcases Ian's superb songwriting and sultry vocals.
"Billie's Bones is a folk album," Ian says. "It's a combination of a few older songs that never made it to an album, and several brand new songs. I've spent this past year at home, so it wasn't the typical 'go on tour for 8 months, slam out an album and go back on tour' recording process. Because of that, there's a calmness to it that I haven't had since Stars and Between The Lines. Almost all the songs were written in January, February, and April of 2003. Usually I don't manage to complete that many songs that I like in a short period of time."
The result is a resplendent mix of unadulterated folk, jazz and blues performed in Ian's unpretentious styling. The album stretches from the subtle imagery in "Billie's Bones", a homage to Ian's hero Billie Holiday, to the suffering in "Matthew", the European spirit of "Paris In Your Eyes," a "co-write" with Woody Guthrie titled "I Hear You Sing Again", and Ian's first guitar instrumental, "Marching On Glasgow". Throughout the album, Ian wraps her aching voice around masterfully crafted songs that flesh out and give meaning to the core of our life experiences.
The album also includes a duet with one of Ian's heroes, Dolly Parton. Parton joins Ian on the beautiful "My Tennessee Hills."
"I have always thought that Janis Ian was one of the greatest writers and singers in the whole wide world. She sent me the song and I just absolutely loved it," Parton says. "It sounded like something I had written and I thought I might be able to complement it with my harmony, so I jumped at the opportunity. Janis is such a sweet person and I had a fun time in the studio with her."
"Mockingbird" and "Forever Young" are also influenced by Ian's adopted state of Tennessee. "I'm having a love affair with this state. They took me in when no one would, and I'm grateful", she says.
Ian is also proud of her contributions to several other projects. She sings "Who Killed Norma Jean" on The Songs of Pete Seeger, Vol 3. The album also includes cuts by Ani DiFranco, Steve Earle, Natalie Merchant and Tom Paxton. Ian sings "This Train" on Shout Sister Shout: A Tribute to Sister Rosetta Tharpe. Ian also translated and recorded "Headlight, Taillight" a song by Miyuki Nakajima of Japan for a tribute to her music.
"At the end of the day, all you can hope for is to go on", says Ian. "The older I get, the more I realize that just keeping on keeping on is what life's all about."