The Bottom Line Encore Collection

Janis Ian

The Bottom Line Records, 1999

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


After reading a story online about Janis Ian the other day, I almost feel sorry about writing this review. Once considered a standard-bearer for the folk movement, as well as a singer-songwriter who wasn't afraid of taking on taboo subjects, Ian has fallen out of the limelight in recent years due to illness and apathy on the part of the music world. (She does have a new album scheduled to come out on Windham Hill soon.) After everything she's been through, one almost feels like standing on a chair and screaming, "Go, Janis, Go!"

Thing is, I read this story after listening to The Bottom Line Encore Collection - Janis Ian, presently the only live album of Ian's out on the market. Mostly taken from a 1980 show she did at the fabled club, Ian shows some moments of brilliance - but if you expected this to be a folk love-in, you're going to be sorely disappointed.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The two songs that Ian is best known for, "Society's Child" and "At Seventeen," are both featured here - in fact, "At Seventeen" is on twice, once from the 1980 show, and once from an acoustic performance sometime after. (Unfortunately, I don't have the press release in front of me that gives the year, the liner notes say nothing, and there's almost no hint on the label's Web site that this disc even exists.) Two versions of one song may seem like a bit of overkill - especially when they're played within three tracks of each other. However, the acoustic-only version adds a bit more pathos to the song, and helps to bring out its startling images better. Ian's voice is richer with a little more age, also adding credence to the message the song conveys.

"Society's Child" - a song about interracial relationships - might not seem to be that big of a deal today, but in the mid-'60s, this was a taboo subject, and the song sparked intense criticism of Ian. (It's interesting to note that conductor Leonard Bernstein came to Ian's assistance, praising the songwriting genius he heard.) Even today, it's an incredibly powerful song to listen to, and one that was definitely ahead of its time.

The Bottom Line Encore Collection - Janis Ian stumbles simply because the energy level of this particular show is not the greatest. With songs like "Jesse" and "The Other Side Of The Mirror," it sometimes feels like this disc is just plodding along. (Maybe part of the problem was that I first listened to this disc at 5 a.m. after pulling an all-nighter. But I've listened to it several times since then, and it hasn't improved.) Some of the tracks like "Fly Too High" show that time has not been kind to these songs.

Sure, there are moments on the album that make you wonder why Ian hasn't been considered one of the living divas - hell, Carole King was honored last year in the (God help us) now-annual VH-1 love-in. Tracks like "Stars" show the power that Ian's music had in 1980, and still does today. But these moments aren't as common as they should be on The Bottom Line Encore Collection - Janis Ian - and that's what makes this album disappointing. It could have been a great live album to showcase Ian's musical heritage. Instead, it's just an average, sleepy disc. Pity.

Rating: C

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of The Bottom Line Records, and is used for informational purposes only.