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Between the Lines
Janis Ian

Columbia 33394
Released: March 1975
Chart Peak: #1
Weeks Charted: 64
Certified Platinum: 11/21/86

Janis IanJanis Ian's second Columbia album is elegiac in mood, its 11 tunes composing a romantically introspective self-portrait. Ian has forged an appealing melodic style based on the folk simplicity of Don McLean and early Bob Dylan and added to it some of the sweetness of MOR pop. Some of her tunes could be covered by Roberta Flack or even Frank Sinatra. Vocally, Ian sounds more confident and relaxed than on her Columbia debut, Stars. Her singing is consistently strong and plaintive, reminiscent in timbre of Melanie's, though surer in pitch and more emotively reticent.

The finest songs on Between the Lines are painfully autobiographical confessions of loneliness, insecurity and the perils of dependent relationships. Ian asserts feminine vulnerability so nakedly that the album should appeal especially to white, middle-class high-school girls and college-age women who maintain a mid-Sixties idealism about sex. Sexual and romantic frustration provides the subject for the album's two finest songs, "At Seventeen" and "Water Colors." The first, a delicate samba, confronts adolescent misery:

I learned the truth at 17
That love was meant for beauty queens...
And those of us with ravaged faces
Lacking in the social graces
Desperately remained at home
Inventing lovers on the 'phone

Janis Ian - Between The Lines
Original album advertising art.
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"Water Colors" recalls a lover's quarrel in language that suggests a conflict between trust and independence:
I said 'Do you wish me dead?'
Lip service to books you've read
Articles on how to bed a bird in flight
You called it love
I called it greed
You say 'You take what you want'
I said 'You get what you need'

These songs of experience are far more credible than those that strut a more general cynicism -- "When the Party's Over" and "Between the Lines" -- or those that formalize longing as soap-opera pageantry -- "In the Winter," "Tea & Sympathy." Yet these too have the virtues of careful craft, melodic strength and earnestness of interpretation. On the album's two most commercial (though not the best) songs, Ian effectively achieves a middle ground. "From Me to You" works as a terse update of Dylan's "It's Alright Ma," and "Light a Light," a melodious love song, has one flaw, the use of syntactical inversion for rhetorical effect ("Now am I humble, who once was proud/Now am I silent, who once was loud"...etc.). Ian is too prone to leaning on such devices, which though they have genuine roots in folk, pop and concert literature, seem affected in comparison to her skillful use of naturalistic diction.

Brooks Arthur's understated production complements the tunes and singing immeasurably. Ian's soft, acoustically based songs are buoyed but not inflated by atmospheric instrumentation (some of which she has arranged herself), so that her emotional intensity communicates from the most positive stance possible -- one of restraint. Particularly in "Water Colors," her most poignant creation to date, Janis Ian shows a potential for excellence.

- Stephen Holden, Rolling Stone, 5/22/75

Bonus Reviews!

Janis Ian has become one of songwriting's most important powers and stylists. Sit down and listen to the words this sensitive vocalist puts down. Several cuts could catch airplay, and many will be covered by other artists. Still, her voice has a very appealing quality to it and she deserves to make it with this album. Best cuts: "When The Party's Over," "From Me To You," "Watercolors," "Between The Lines."

- Billboard, 1975.

Further reading on
Super Seventies RockSite!:

Single Review:
"At Seventeen"

Janis Ian Lyrics

Janis Ian Videos

Janis Ian Mugshots

In this time of dearth, it's probably improvident to laugh at someone so talented -- good melodies abound here, and I can't think of a rock singer who has made more unaffected and pleasurable use of her or his voice lessons. But this woman's humorlessness demands snickers. It was one thing for society's teenager to pity herself because she didn't have the integrity to stick with her black boyfriend. It's another thing for a grown-up to pity her teenaged self because she was always picked last in basketball. I mean, face it, Ms. Ian -- you're short. B-

- Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide, 1981.

"At Seventeen" is only one of a group of beautifully written, tastefully performed, and very moving songs. * * * *

- William Ruhlmann, The All-Music Guide to Rock, 1995.

On Between the Lines, "At Seventeen" is only one of an album full of luminous, well-crafted songs. * * * *

- Gary Graff, Musichound Rock: The Essential Album Guide, 1996.

Though she first recorded at age 15, this ultimate expression of angst, cut eight years later, proved Ian's breakthrough, thanks to the intimate hit "At Seventeen," an ode to lost innocence, which perfectly captures the turmoil inside the teenage ugly duckling. Though not an album to liven up a party, it's a tour de force that showcases the strong, fragile, beautiful voice of one of the original sensitive young women singer-songwriters. * * * *

- Zagat Survey Music Guide - 1,000 Top Albums of All Time, 2003.

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