Janis Ian “The Light At The End of the Line”

Rude Girl Records, 2022

Wonderfully rich swan song from legendary songwriter.

Artwork for Janis Ian 'Light At The End'Janis Ian is a name who will need no introduction here, an artist who forced her way into the male-dominated music business in the late ’60’s/early 70’s, alongside the likes of Joni Mitchell, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Judy Collins, and Carole King. Ian created a canon of sensitive yet gritty music over the decades, unafraid to call out a message of resistance and fearlessness in the face of a patriarchal and often misogynistic society, while also simultaneously celebrating the complex emotions, hope and beauty that are present in the world.  Now, at the age of 70, comes ‘The Light At The End of The Line’, her first album of new material since ‘Folk Is The New Black‘ in 2006. Also, sadly, she describes it as her “swan song”, her last solo studio recording, although she insists she is “not retiring, just rewiring”.  There is an intrinsic risk when an artist makes that sort of statement before releasing a record – that they will try too hard, or not hard enough; reinvent themselves in a different mould, or bring out a variation of the ‘same old, same old’ that brought them success in the first place.

It is probably unsurprising that Ian, with all the class, experience and literacy she has at her disposal, should sidestep any of these concerns. Instead, she has made a record that acts lyrically as a perfect summation of all that she has stood for, while musically being a real pleasure to listen to from start to finish.

I’m Still Standing’ rolls in with an easy acoustic groove, and a statement of intent – “See these lines upon my face? They’re a map of where I’ve been; and the deeper they are traced, the deeper life has settled in”.   ‘Resist’, which follows, is a clarion call, a reminder that there is a battle still to be won, in terms of being able to stand true in the face of a (still) alpha-male dominated society. Ian insists that “I will not disappear” in the face of those who like the status quo just as it is, and one can only believe her. The fight will go on.

‘Perfect Little Girl’ appears later in the record, and represents the same issues, but from a very different, internal angle, and with an understanding, compassionate touch. Then there is ‘Nina’, a really beautiful tribute to Ms Simone – and also a different approach again to celebrating the women who have gone before, who have stood firm and spoken their truth in an unforgiving, unwelcoming world.

If all this sounds a little worthy or preachy – it’s not. Ian’s lyricism is too sharp and refined and poetic for that. Always a skilled musician in her own right, she wraps the songs in adroit little arrangements that don’t swamp the songs, but are as fine to listen to as any record in her extensive collection. ‘Nina’ and ‘Perfect little Girl’ are just two among a host of songs here which are beautifully realised, delicate pieces of music – ‘Stranger’, Dancing With The Dark’, ‘Wherever Good Dreams Go’, the title track – for anyone who fell in love with likes of ‘At Seventeen’ and ‘Jesse’, they will find plenty to love here again. ‘Swannanoa’, meanwhile, is a stunning, warm breath of a folk song, that is a ready-made cover for the likes of Maura O’Connell, Mary Black or Christy Moore, with the celtic instruments already in place. Just gorgeous.

Finally, the record closes out with ‘Better Times Will Come’, part folk, part gospel hymn, a little like a new take on ‘We Shall Overcome’ or ‘Hard Times Come Again No More’. It goes through several phases, before ending in a squall of feedback – if that seems a little musically surprising, it is surely a sign that Janis Ian is still here, still fighting, and beware those who think there isn’t an iron fist in the velvet glove, should it be needed. The fight goes on, and if Ian is readying to leave the stage, she has left a suitably fitting signpost for others to follow.



Notify of

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments