Monday, 28 October 2019

Janis Ian - Between The Lines (1975)

The valentines I never knew....


Released in March 1975

Running time 43.21

This really is a truly delightful album, despite its often heartbreaking, lovelorn, self-analytical subject matter. Janis Ian was one of the many female singer-songwriters that appeared in the mid-seventies and her brutally honest, earnest lyrics earned her a big following in the student rooms and bedsits of the time. It is a very female album but I love it, so I must be in touch with my feminine side. There you go, I can play The Sex Pistols and I can play this.

The album is often thought to be Ian’s debut album, (for a long time by me) in fact it was her seventh.


1. When The Party's Over
2. At Seventeen
3. From Me To You
4. Bright Lights And Promises
5. In The Winter
6. Watercolors
7. Between The Lines
8. The Come On
9. Light A Light
10. Tea And Sympathy
11. Lover's Lullabye                                 

When The Party’s Over is a most fetching, acoustic and sumptuous bass-backed song that breaks out into a gently rhythmic, airy chorus with hints of Bread and America. Janis’s voice is pleasing in a sixties/seventies folky sort of way.

At Seventeen is a classic, of course, beloved of reflective, sensitive, misty-eyed confused teenage girls. It is lyrically superb and full of plaintive, lonely atmosphere. Its understated, gentle backing suits the song perfectly. Once again, the subtle, melodic bass line is gorgeous, as is the soft, samba-esque trumpet solo. A young Mary Chapin Carpenter no doubt loved this song.

From Me To You has a bluesy folkiness to it, with echoes of Sandy Denny of Fairport Convention or Jacqui McShee of Pentangle. Janis starts to rock a bit in places, her voices getting slightly more abrasive, (comparatively). It is another beautifully haunting number. Nice drums on it too. Bright Lights And Promises is a late-night piece of jazzy blues, beautifully sung and perfectly played. Janis could sing the blues as well as angsty acoustic ballads. In The Winter has Ian revisiting her At Seventeen loneliness again, even more so this time, the protagonist has grown up and is living alone, even more miserable. Proper bedsit music.

The stark, quiet and thoughtful Watercolors is very much a song that you imagine will have influenced Mary Chapin Carpenter. You can hear it in both the lyrics and the song’s construction. Even the vocals sound very similar to each other. Between The Lines ploughs a similar furrow, with a nice bassy backing to the main parts of the song. The chorus gets a bit Cabaret in its stompiness. It also gets all Jewish Klezmer at the end as the pace frantically increases.

The Come On is a brave song with a Janis desperate for physical fun virtually offering herself to a man, no strings. A ground-breaking song for the mid-seventies. Janis comes on all Millie Jackson at a few points in the song, although her vulnerability is still plain to hear. “All my friends have their lovers, they’ve got their men on a string, there must be something terribly wrong with me…” sings Janis, feeling very sorry for herself.

Light A Light is a fetching, beautiful song with an infectious but quiet rhythm. Tea And Sympathy is a very mature song for one still so young. It is a moving, very sad song lamenting a lost love. Lover’s Lullabye is an emotive, bleak piano, bass and vocal number to leave the listener in no happier a state than at the beginning of the album. It breaks out into a big chorus half way through, surprisingly, before settling back into the quiet reflectiveness that dominates the album.

It is a very pleasing, beautifully sung and played album that has to go down as a classic of its type. Highly recommended.

Below is a clip of Janis Ian performing At Seventeen on The Old Grey Whistle Test.


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