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Janis Ian

Country of origin:


Type of music generally:

Contemporary folk, pop


Most recent release, Strictly Solo (2014)

See also:

Janis Ian's site

Wikipedia's entry on Janis Ian


Often compared to Carole King, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Joan Armatrading

Covers/own material:

Own and co-written

General comments:

Legendary folk singer and specifically lesbian folk singer. Her songs, like her biggest hit, "Society's Child" often tell stories with social overtones. (JoAnn Whetsell)

Comments about live performance:

Janis Ian was excellent. Her performance was good, though not strikingly so, but some of her songs and lyrics were extremely moving. She seems to be a very talented song writer. (8/93, I went in only passingly familiar with her work, not fully knowing what to expect. First half was good, but somewhere in the middle she made it seem as if the first 40 or so minutes were just fingering exercise and vocal warmup. Magical indeed.
     The short version: Wow. Easily one of the 2 or 3 best concerts I've seen this year. Don't miss this tour if she plays near you...
     The long version:
     The tour's just starting (her new disc—Hunger (co-produced by and featuring the vocals of Ani DiFranco)—isn't even due out 'til Tuesday...) and she's doing this tour solo. From the stage, she repeatedly referred to herself as a "folk" musician, and indeed the first half of the show consisted largely of classics of hers that she and others popularized over the last 20someodd years. As enjoyable as that was, it was the second half that floored me. Definitely not what pops to mind when the (admittedly ambiguous) term "folk" musician and I found myself wondering if Ani'd rubbed off on her. ;) Wonderful guitarwork (ranging from folk to blues to rock, even getting a couple of funk riffs in), coupled with on-the-fly looping of guitar and vocals (which if abused can be trying, but she pulled it off wonderfully and to great effect) and a voice that hasn't lost anything made for an unbelievably powerful closing 40 minutes. (9/97,

Finally, I have to say that Janis Ian simply blew me away. I'd never seen her perform—hell, I think I've only ever heard two or three of her recent songs, and "Society's Child" and "Seventeen" never did that much for me. About the only point of interest she's ever had for me was the fact that her mother and my mom were roommates in college; so I was utterly unprepared for her souped-up, pedal-effected, acoustic-electric guitar and just what she can do with it. I had no idea. She played a couple new songs, one a country twanger called "Emmylou's Boots", inspired by a run-in her little dog had with Emmylou Harris in Nashville (let's just say that Emmylou doesn't wear those boots any more :}), and another as-yet-untitled one she'd just written the day before and had never played for anyone. It was stunning. She brought the house down with a jazz-funky "Hunger" that got very improv at the end, then in the next round totally outdid herself with a song from Hunger (I can't recall the name, but it had a theme about wanting to kill somebody) which included a 5+ minute blues-jazz-funk-throw-in-every-adolescent-lick-you-can-remember guitar solo. It trod the line of wank, but never managed to step over. I don't know if I'll pay full price for her albums (though I really want to check out at least Hunger now), but I will definitely see her again. Wow. (2/99)
     Have I mentioned that Janis Ian is perhaps the biggest musical surprise I've encountered in a long time? Prior to this weekend I thought she was mighty cool, but I left the Festival an unabashed fan. If all you know of her are her adolescent hits ("Society's Child", "At Seventeen", "Jesse"), think again. She is now what would happen if Laurie Anderson played a black acoustic guitar. She's got a rack of pedals and her own personal sound minion, and she's not afraid to use either. At one point I thought I was going to get blown clear off the hill. And I wasn't alone—for the rest of the night I was hearing people around me talking about how stunningly amazing she was. (2/99)
     It was worth it to see Janis Ian play that incredible guitar of hers. (7/00)
     I saw her a couple months ago, and she was just as brilliant as ever. She wasn't doing as much cool stuff as in the past with her acoustic guitar run through the effects board, but it was still a great show. (7/04,

Recommended first album:

Maybe one of the compilations?


  • Janis Ian (1966)
  • For All the Seasons of Your Mind (1967)
  • The Secret Life of J. Eddy Fink (1968)
  • Who Really Cares (1969)
  • Present Company (1971)
  • Stars (1974)
  • Between the Lines (1975)
  • Aftertones (1976)
  • Miracle Row (1977)
  • Best of Janis Ian (compilation, 1977)
  • Janis Ian II (1978)
  • Remember (1978)
  • Night Rains (1979)
  • Restless Eyes (1981)
  • Uncle Wonderful (1983)
  • At Seventeen (1990)
  • Up 'Til Now (1992)
  • Breaking Silence (1992)
  • Simon Renshaw Presents: Janis Ian Shares Your Pain (1994)
  • Revenge (1995)
  • Live on the Test 1976 (1995)
  • Society's Child: The Verve Recordings (1995)
  • Hunger (1997)
  • Unreleased 1: Mary's Eyes (compilation, 1998)
  • The Bottom Line Encore collection (Live 1980) (live, 1999)
  • Unreleased 2: Take No Prisoners (compilation, 2000)
  • god & the fbi (2000)
  • Unreleased 3: Society's Child (compilation, 2001)
  • Lost Cuts 1 (2002)
  • Working Without a Net: Live (live, 2003)
  • Souvenirs: Best of Janis Ian 1972-1981 (compilation, 2004)
  • Billie's Bones (2004)
  • Folk is the New Black (2006)
  • Ultimate Best (compilation, 2007)
  • Best of Janis Ian The Autobiography Collection (compilation, 2008)
  • The Tiny Mouse (2013)
  • Strictly Solo (2014)

Breaking Silence

Release info:

1992—Morgan Creek—2959-20023-2



Ecto priority:

Highly recommended

Group members:

Janis Ian—vocals, acoustic guitars, piano

Guest artists:

Jim Brock—drums, percussion
Chad Watson—bass, slide bass
Dan Huff—electric guitars
Jim Hoke—solo harmonica

Produced by:

Jeff Balding & Janis Ian


Breaking Silence is the first Janis Ian album I ever heard and the only one I've kept listening to. I didn't get into her other work, but I love this album. "Ride Me Like a Wave" is one of the sexiest songs ever, but there are also songs stories, really about domestic violence, 60s innocence and activism, the Holocaust, love, finding yourself and making a life you want. The sound reminds me a bit of Shawn Colvin, that kind of not quite folk or pop, though Janis' delivery tends to stay in a smaller range. Highly recommended! (JoAnn Whetsell)


Release info:




Ecto priority:



Okay, here's an odd one. I love the lyrics. I love the music. It's the voice. I mean, her voice is nice and pleasant, but I keep wishing she'd just, for lack of a better term, belt out the vocals instead of holding everything back. She sings like a shy woman at a Karaoke bar, ferchrissakes. She needs to let go. ;> (

god & the fbi

Release info:




Ecto priority:



God And The FBI isn't the knockout her live performances are, but it's still pretty darned good. In the liner notes she lists a slew of creative influences, including Octavia Butler, John Barnes, and Orson Scott Card. I can forgive her that last for the other two. The woman's got taste. :). (

Further info:


  • Through the Years: A Retrospective (2007)
  • Janis Ian Live '79 (2007)
  • Janismania (2004)
  • Janis Ian Live at Club Café (2004)

  • Society's Child: My Autobiography (2008)
  • Stars: Stories Based on the Songs of Janis Ian (by various writers, 2003)
  • Who Really Cares (1969 book of poetry re-released in 2002 with new forward and additional poems)

Thanks to JoAnn Whetsell for work on this entry.

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DISCLAIMER: Comments and reviews in the Ectophiles' Guide are excerpted from the ecto mailing list or volunteered by members of the list. They are the opinions of music enthusiasts, not professional music critics.

Entry last updated 2016-04-03 16:20:14.
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