Janis Ian back with Billie’s Bones

SOUNDS FAMILIAR - Baby A. Gil () - June 22, 2005 - 12:00am
Child prodigies do not always grow up into spoiled brats, they also mature into artists who continue to amaze the public with their works. Such is the case of Janis Ian who as a teenager stunned audiences with her astute poetry and detached singing style. But I have to admit that although she makes me think of Sylvia Platt at times, I do believe that she was too mired in self-pity in most of her early works. But then I have to also admit that self-pitying or not she is one writer who often hits the nail on the head. In fact, the pains she explores in her works can feel so real.

"I learned the truth at 17 that love was meant for beauty queens and high school girls with clear-skinned smiles who married young and then retired…"
goes Ian’s Grammy winning recording of At Seventeen from the album Between the Lines in 1974. Thirty years and many albums later, her latest Billie’s Bones proves that Janis Ian is still the intelligent, observant, honest and incisive artist we admire.

Ian’s strongest point has always been her lyrics and there is nothing stinted about this in Billie’s Bones. The title cut comes from a poem she wrote in 1968 when she was only 18. "I stand on the bones of my elders/ I walk on the carcasses of those who went before me/ Billie is my idol, I wander through the desert of her later years/ copying every bleached bone/ mimicking each tattered muscle/ watching for any sign of life/ trying to grin with the ease of her skull/ grinning back at me/ and all I have learned from all this desert/ is just how well I fail."

If you think that is good then prepare to be dazzled by the new version which is even more poignant than the original. "Now the flesh of earth has passed/ now the joints have come undone/ all that’s left of her is ash/ scattered on the air like crumbs/ there are voices on the wind/ stolen whispers, sacred moans/ you can hear them through your skin/ and the singing of the bones/ when the wind blows from the east/ I can taste her on my tongue/ and the grave is lined and paved/ with all the songs we never sang."

The title track shows how far Ian has matured in her art over the years. Space does not permit me to compare one poem to the other, but then, this limitation should serve as an incentive for you to get a copy of the CD where the lyrics of the 13 songs are printed in the cover. Then you can either read the songs as beautiful poetry or you can sing along with the album.

Janis Ian is also an excellent singer and musician and she reaches new heights with Billie’s Bones. Admirable is her vocals, laid-back but haunting and seemingly hiding so much emotion. So is her sure-fingered guitar-playing. And so are her melodies that go from country to pop to folk to jazz and other music types to match the mood of her poems.

The other titles included are: My Tennessee Hills, Paris in Your Eyes, Marching on Glasgow, I Hear You Sing Again, Forever Young, Matthew, Amsterdam, Dead Men Walking, Save Somebody, Mockingbird, Mary’s Eyes and When I Lay Down.
* * *
Still on the subject of beautiful love songs. BMG has this interesting compilation containing songs for a love story. And unlike Ian’s, it has a happy ending. The two-disc set is divided into four stages, Finding, Loving, Hurting and Reuniting. Under these are popular titles that might have served and still serve as background music to many romances.

has I Turn to You by Christina Aguilera, Fallen by Lauren Wood, Heaven Knows by Rick Price, More Than Words by Extreme; Loving has This I Promise You by ‘N Sync, Because You Loved Me by Celine Dion, 2 Become One by the Spice Girls, Valentine by Jim Brickman.

is defined by How Could an Angel Break My Heart by Toni Braxton with Kenny G, If You Leave Me Now by Chicago, How Do I Live by Trisha Yearwood, One Last Try by Brian McKnight; and finally there is Reuniting with Back for Good by Take That, The One That You Love by Air Supply, and If You Don’t Know Me by Now by Simply Red. Plus lots of other tunes.

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