Janis Ian “The Essential 2.0” (Sony Music CMG 2017)

With ten Grammy nominations, and being able to count the likes of Dolly Parton, Cher, Billy Joel, Johnny Cash (who apparently kept a book of her poetry in his library), Jimi Hendrix and Willie Nelson as fans, Janis Ian is entitled to be described as “the songwriter’s songwriter”. When you consider that her songs have been covered by artists such as Glen Campbell, Celine Dion and Roberta Flack it is clear that this is a seriously talented artist and as such, this career-spanning retrospective really is an “essential” listen.

It is quite staggering to think that Janis Ian’s first hit in 1967, Society’s Child, a story of interracial romance that ended due to social pressure, was released when she was just fifteen years old. A child launching herself into the maelstrom of the Civil Rights issue and having to face hostility from the Right and a number of US radio stations. However, she had been writing even earlier than that and Hair of Spun Gold also features in this collection which she wrote at the age of twelve.

There are thirty-two songs in this collection and each one is gold-plated proof of the quality of songwriting and arrangement skills that make Ian such a well-renowned artist. You cannot fail to be affected by the melodies or subject matter of songs such as Dance with Me, Stars or the hauntingly beautiful On the Other Side. Nor can you remain unmoved by duets like Memphis with Willie Nelson, Don’t leave Tonight with Conny Vandenbos and My Tennessee Hills with Dolly Parton.

The political edge and social observation of Ian are finely honed in God and the FBI and of course there is the eternally moving 1975 Song and Record of the Year, At Seventeen. Also, for the first time on any Janis Ian album, is the inclusion of the 12’’ Extended Mix of Fly Too High, a disco floor-filler if you please, produced by no less than Giorgio Moroder. Variety truly is the spice of life.

However, what shines through most brightly is the true art of the songwriter, touched by genius here. The range of songs and breadth of style evidence a truly special talent and make this an outstanding release and an essential addition to any collection.

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