Janis Ian,
Live: Working Without a Net
(Rude Girl, 2003)

Janis Ian -- she of "At Seventeen," "Stars," "Tattoo," "Fly Too High," "Jesse" and "Society's Child," to name but a few of her hits -- is, strangely, one of those artists whose name eludes the general recall of many. Yet, as soon as one of her songs begins, recognition kicks in and recaptures her audience. I confess that I still have three of her albums on vinyl, so it was with pleasurable anticipation I listened to Working Without a Net, which is her first release of live material. I was not disappointed -- apart from the inexplicable exclusion of my favourite, "Restless Eyes," from the tracks, this double CD is solid joy and a reaffirmment of Ian's skill as well as her maturing vocals and performance abilities.

The recordings are taken from a selection of live performances since 1990, taped "live to two track" -- in other words, just what the audience heard that night, and not re-recorded, mixed, dubbed or subject to any other technical jiggery-pokery. Interspersing the songs are stage commentaries from Ian -- explanations about the impetus for her songs, joking asides to her audience and so on -- which add to the live flavour of this album without detracting from the songs or distracting the listener.

I found the subtle differences in her performances intriguing, having been so accustomed to the studio productions from the 1970s and '80s. They are undoubtedly the same songs, but Ian is older and wiser, and the differences in interpretation bring a new depth and poignancy to the lyrics. "Jesse" is particularly affected by this -- always an emotive song, it now soars to higher heights of hope, swoops to deeper depths of despair and tugs even more insistently at one's heartstrings.

On the other side of the coin, her humour and vivacity are evident in many songs that are new to me. "Cosmopolitan Girl" and "Boots Like Emmy Lou" are sung with tongue so firmly in cheek, it is amazing she can get the words out at all, and if you don't at least smile at her sassiness, you have no funny bone at all!

She runs a rainbow of emotions with the choice of songs -- "Paris in Your Eyes," "Breaking Silence," "This Train Still Runs" -- and in my opinion this album outshines her previous ones by several hundred degrees of luminescence and provides new pleasure and insight into songs old and new alike.

I could effuse further about the talents of Janis Ian -- singer, songwriter, guitarist, pianist, social commentator and skilled performer -- but the best thing to do is buy this CD and hear for yourself. If you are unfamiliar with her songs, this is a solid value: 31 tracks on a double CD containing all (but one) of her greatest hits. This is excellent entertainment and a stunning introduction to this performer. If you are, or were, a fan, this is a CD you cannot afford to miss.

- Rambles
written by Jenny Ivor
published 29 May 2004

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