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Janis Ian: Billie's Bones

Janis Ian: Billie's Bones

Label:Oh Boy!/Rude Girl
Release Date:2004
Genre:Singer/Songwriter (Folk)

By John Duffy | Posted 6/9/2004

Janis Ian writes brave and confronting songs even when her career has scraped bottom. Never mind the naked vulnerability of "At Seventeen," or the deliberate taboo-defiance of "Society's Child (Baby I've Been Thinking)," her two early commercial peaks; Ian spent most of the last 25 years keeping her head above water, both personally and professionally. Her songcraft remained intact, and she reached her largest audience in decades in the late 1990s. Ian is at her disarming best on her latest, Billie's Bones, even if it's an occasionally too polished mix of country, folk, and jazz.

"Forever Young" is a stark retelling of the ancient murder ballad "Pretty Polly," where a man kills his lover out of deluded jealousy. It's followed by "Matthew," a sultry jazz meditation castigating Matthew Shepard's murderers. Death by love, death by hate, both sung in the same whispering voice that Ian has used since 1967. She ruminates on the tragic life of Billie Holiday on the title track, and ties it all together with a meditation on death's sheer randomness and how we each might meet it on "Dead Men Walking."

She isn't death-obsessed, though. Billie's Bones has its tender moments, too, such as the gentle "My Tennessee Hills," where Ian finds comfort even at life's lowest time, and where satisfaction can be found nestled neatly between heartbreak and triumph, the very place Ian's career has many times been frustratingly lodged.

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