Janis Ian

Folk Is the New Black

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A new Janis Ian album with a title like Folk Is the New Black, with all due respect, is not only ridiculous, it's just plain wrong. Ian has been on the militant side of things all her life, so it should come as no surprise, but it's difficult to separate the music from the cultural provocateur. Musically, Folk is one of the best things Ian's recorded, though it still has a host of clunky songs. One suspects she doesn't care; she produces her own sides and releases them herself, and she can do whatever she wants. It's easy to respect that. It's also easy to be drawn to such excellent songs as "The Great Divide," full of tenderness and hope, or heartbreaking stories such as "Jackie Skates," the beautifully stark "Home Is in the Heart," or the humorous Woody Guthrie-inspired "My Autobiography." But there are other songs here that don't cut: the overly sloganeering "Danger Danger," which opens the set, the title track that bookends the album. Nonetheless, Ian fans, used to her humor and rambling manner of writing and recording, will no doubt be excited by this. Everyone else will take what's fine here -- and what is, is exceptional -- and leave the rest. Nonetheless, Ian's place in the folk music pantheon and track record as an artist cannot be disputed, but that doesn't make her sometimes overbearing methods any easier to accept.

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