Album Review: Janis Ian, ‘The Light at the End of the Line’

Exquisitely circling guitar patterns weave around Janis Ian’s lissome vocals in the elegantly spare title track of her new album, The Light at the End of the Line. The tender wistfulness of the song celebrates the love she feels for her audiences, as well as the light with which songs illumine our lives. In the final verse, she reminds us that “In the blink of an eye/all that’s left is the past/and the memories fade/’til there’s silence at last/But the song will remember/the spark will still shine/It’s the light at the end of the line/There’s a light at the end of the line.” The graceful beauty of this song itself dwells in our hearts long after the final notes, revealing the enduring power of music.

Every song on Ian’s album, which she has announced is her final studio album and her first of original material in 15 years, peers into the shadowy corners of our existence, twirling through the labyrinthine paths of memory and presence, honoring the artists whose music inhabits her soul, and looking forward with hope to a day when “we will dance, we will sing/in that never-ending spring.”

The bright “I’m Still Standing Here” opens with Ian’s and Jon Perry’s swirling guitars as Ian sings, the “lines on my face” are a “map of where I’ve been.” She declares that she “would not trade a line/Make it smooth and fine/or pretend that time stands still/I’m still standing here.” The prowling, expansive “Resist,” fueled by engineer Randy Leago’s thumping percussion and Perry’s guitars, proclaims defiantly the power of surviving, standing firm, and contesting (“I will not disappear”) sexual stereotyping and sexual harassment. Ian’s funk anthem loudly speaks truth to power.

The Celtic-inflected ballad “Swannanoa” swirls with longing, as Nuala Kennedy’s Irish whistle evokes a lonesomeness that lies in the heart of the singer. Ian’s elegant vocals flow over stately piano chords in “Perfect Little Girl,” a meditation on how to create one’s own identity in the midst of a society that sends messages that women should act certain ways and be “perfect little girls.”

In the ethereally spare “Nina” pays tribute to Nina Simone, while “Summer in New York” rolls in on a wave of piano notes that cascade into a celebration of New York City in a jazz lounge vamp that struts and shines. The album closes with the celebratory “Better  Times Will Come”—a kind of sonic riposte to “Hard Times Come Again No More”—that opens with Ian’s a cappella vocals and spirals into a hand-clapping New Orleans second line soul-strut.

The Light at the End of the Line showcases Ian’s always incisive lyrics, her canny ability to call out the injustices in our world, to advocate resistance, and to overcome them, and her tender, evocative ways of writing intimately of the love that moves her heart. Even if Ian is stepping off the train of touring and making albums, her light will continue to shine brightly through this collection of illuminating lyrics and enduring music.


The Light at the End of the Line is available HERE.



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