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Janis Ian Live
Working Without A Net

Review By Steven Stone
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Janis Ian Live Working Without a Net

CD Number: Rude Girl/Oh Boy Records OBR-026 


  The very first long-playing record album I ever purchased was Society's Child by Janis Ian. Armed with this record and a mono copy of Bob Dylan's Bringing it All Back Home I wore out the needle on my first Garrard turntable. Fast-forward thirty years – I stole the title Acousticville for my monthly Vintage Guitar column from Janis Ian's song "Welcome to Acousticville." In penance I concluded my first column with a mention that her 1936 D-18 guitar, serial # 67053, that had been stolen in1972 and she was still seeking it. Remarkably a VG reader, Geoff Grace, returned the guitar to her shortly thereafter.

For those who don't have quite as long or interesting a relationship with Janis Ian Working Without a Net makes a wonderful introduction to her rich wonderful body of work. This 2-CD release functions as a "best of" album since includes almost all her important songs, beginning with "Society's Child," working through "Jesse," "Stars," "At Seventeen," Between the Lines," "This Train Still Runs," and "Breaking Silence." Janis reminds me of Judy Garland in that when she is on stage she completely owns that small piece of real estate for the duration of her time there. Working Without a Net gives you a taste of her performance mastery. About two-thirds of the performances are solo, if Janis Ian can ever really be considered a solo act, since her longtime soundman Philip Clark functions as sort of a silent accompanist, adding special effects and little sonic filigrees throughout most of her show. The last third of this live album features a fine backup band of seasoned pros including Rick Blackwell on bass, Jim Brock on drums, and Randy Leago on harmonica, sax, and keyboards.

An almost compulsive recorder (once at the Lyons Song School, an annual occurrence before the Rocky Mountain Folk's Fest, she borrowed my DAT machine to record her lecture on performance technique when her usual recorder failed) Janis had a wealth of performances to choose from when compiling this CD. The result is a truly live album (no overdubs ala Kiss Live) that not only captures some great performances, but also gives an accurate picture of the breadth of her prodigious talent. While the recording quality does vary, as you would expect from a release that includes material from thirteen different venues over a thirteen year span, the overall sound quality is remarkably consistent, I suspect in large part to her house mix guy, Phillip Clark.

It's nearly impossible for one live album, even if it is a double album, to comprehensively cover a performing artist's entire career, but Working Without a Net comes as close to achieving this elusive goal as any release I've heard. So if Janis Ian is an old acquaintance, let Working Without a Net reunite you, and if she is an unknown quantity, this CD makes the perfect introduction.



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