(4 / 5)
Janis Ian. Folk legend. Singer. Songwriter. A star for five decades. A songwriter’s songwriter. It takes a brave soul to set out to “redefine” her songs at all, but in another genre and style altogether requires a giant leap of faith.
US jazz artist Sarah Partridge is that person who dreamed up this project; to reinterpret some of Janis’ well known and lesser known songs in her own style. She has Janis appear on the record too, singing on the opener, “A Quarter Past Heartache,” one of two songs co-written by Ian and Partridge.
On paper, a jazz album of Janis Ian folk stuff did not work for me. I put this CD into the player with trepidation, I can admit. After a few tracks, I was sold. A lovely job and the material is a tight fit for Sarah’s relaxed vocal style and the transition from folk to jazz.
Sarah introduced an impressive body of original compositions on her 2015 Origin Records release “I’d Never Thought I’d Be Here”, but for her new project, she wanted to celebrate a singer/songwriter outside of her own genre and beyond the Great American Songbook.
On “Bright Lights & Promises: Redefining Janis Ian”, her fifth album and the second for Origin Records, Partridge reimagines 11 works from the legendary singer/songwriter’s discography, plus the two co-writes. Sarah realised that some of Ian’s very early song writing seemed influenced by jazz, so she was able to tap into that asset.
Janis Ian exploded on the pop music scene in 1967’s so-called ‘Summer of Love’ as a precociously talented singer/songwriter confronting the dark side of American life. She was just 14 when, in 1965, she wrote and recorded “Society’s Child (Baby I’ve Been Thinking),” her single about a young interracial couple ripped apart by prejudice.
Championed by Leonard Bernstein two years later on his CBS-TV special ‘Inside Pop: The Rock Revolution’, the single went gold and established Ian as one of the era’s most promising young performers. She recorded several critically praised albums for Verve over the next few years, but didn’t break through again until 1975’s chart-topping “Between the Lines”, featuring the Grammy-winning single “At Seventeen,” a song she performed that year on the debut broadcast of ‘Saturday Night Live’. A super version of which is included on “Bright Lights & Promises”.
As with her previous album, Sarah is joined by her regular band of pianist Allen Farnham, bassist Bill Moring, and drummer Tim Horner. Trombonist Ben Williams, reed virtuoso Scott Robinson, and guitarist Paul Meyers are also back in the fold. Farnham, who produced the album, arranged 11 of the songs; two were arranged by Horner.
Majoring in theatre at University, after graduating in 1982 she worked around Chicago, and in 1983 landed her first feature role in Tom Cruise’s breakout hit ‘Risky Business’. Relocating to L.A. in 1984, she worked steadily in film and television, carving out a niche doing voice-overs. Out with friends one night at ‘The Improv’, she accepted their dare to take a turn at karaoke and delivered a stunning rendition of “Summertime.” The impromptu performance caught the ear of a booker, who promptly hired her to sing in a concert with the top tier of L.A. jazz musicians. It was a successful gig that rekindled a long-buried dream.
Partridge spent years honing her technique in L.A. and New York City, where she moved in 1994, and instantly bonded with legendary trumpeter Doc Cheatham. Sarah released her widely-acclaimed debut “I’ll Be Easy to Find” in 1998, featuring jazz greats Frank Wess, Bucky Pizzarelli, and Gene Bertoncini. She has released “Blame It On My Youth”, 2004; “You Are There”, “Songs For My Father”, 2006; “Perspective”, 2010; and “I Never Thought I’d Be Here”, 2015.
Her phrasing is everything on this record, and shows a dexterity and innate versatility that is rare. Some of these songs sound like they were written for her. The iconic 1987 album by Jennifer Warnes, “Famous Blue Raincoat”, famously reinterpreted the unique songs of Leonard Cohen. Sarah Partridge achieves a similar result on “Bright Lights & Promises,” with the timeless and skilfully crafted songs of Janis Ian, and deserves great respect and acclaim for such a special record. Love to know what Janis thinks of the results…
By Simon Redley
(1 / 5) ‘Dull Zone’
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’