Janis Ian

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Stars Review

by Lindsay Planer

After a three-year (1971-1974) hiatus, singer/songwriter Janis Ian (guitar/vocals) reinvented her craft on 1974's groundbreaking Stars long-player. Her penchant for hauntingly beautiful melodies and incisive lyrics remains at the center of Ian's craft as she weaves an array of uniquely expressive observations with timeless poignancy. She has publicly acknowledged that the introspective title track that opens the album was inspired by Don McLean's "Vincent." Ian's reflections are almost naked in their intimacy as she looks within the psyche of celebrity and draws comparisons between the respective astral and physical bodies that "Stars" inhabit, albeit briefly in either case. The song's sparse acoustic guitar self-accompaniment is somewhat an anomaly as the remainder of the album incorporates various backing combos. The cozy and laid-back "Page Nine" demonstrates a jazzier side to Ian's arrangements and features some inviting contributions from percussion legend and studio heavyweight George Devens (vibraphone), who had been performing in Ian's studio coterie since her second release, For All the Seasons of Your Mind (1967). "The Man You Are in Me" is instrumentally highlighted by Richard Davis (bass), who impels the rhythm and provides Ian with a sonic backdrop beguiling the listener into its practically hypnotic melody. There is also a fair share of folk-infused material, ranging from the easygoing and heartfelt paean "Thankyous" to the decidedly more political and strident "Dance with Me," which deals fairly directly with the Vietnam experience. Perhaps the best-known cut on Stars also obliquely references the war and is considered the disc's crown jewel. "Jessie" is a riveting love song that is as beautiful as it is soul-wrenchingly poignant. The delicate, understated score only adds to the composition's empathy. "Applause" fittingly concludes the effort in a Broadway-esque fashion with a grandiose production reminiscent of something out of Cabaret or A Chorus Line. The understated and comparatively reticent middle section is dramatically bookended with an otherwise embellished and knowingly campy arrangement. Stars set the stage for Ian to further develop her mature, a hallmark that separated her from her weepy and otherwise introspective peers.

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