Janis Ian

God & the FBI

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It's been many years since she learned the truth "At Seventeen," but the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist -- who tackles guitars, keyboards, upright bass, and even banjo here -- is still a sharp lyricist who makes her points amid a stylistically diverse playground. Thank God her lyrics don't run as ridiculously stream of consciousness as her liner notes, because part of the fun here is imagining her tongue firmly planted in her cheek as she expounds on various themes. She tackles social paranoia on the bluesy title track; gentle spirituality on "On the Other Side," a tribute to Memphis featuring Mark Twain imagery and Willie Nelson's harmony voca; the powerful pain of love on "When You Love Someone"; and even women's lib on "Plays Like a Girl." That last tune sounds like something you'd hear at the Lilith Fair, a proclamation that girls may be denied membership in certain boys' activities, but the musical boundaries are breaking down. There is a wistful sense of hope on many of the tunes ("The Last Comeback" brims with optimism), but she chooses to close the set with the throbbing, percussive "Murdering Stravinsky," which laments the way people disregard the importance of traditions as they forge ahead. A solid commentary on modern times with a lot of musical joys to be found.

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