Jazz vocalist Sarah Partridge was only tinkering with the idea of recording one or two songs written by singer-songwriter Janis Ian, best known for her hits, “At Seventeen” and “Society’s Child.” Recently, from the stage where the teenage Ian herself sang in the 1960s, Partridge celebrated the release of her full CD of Janis Ian songs. Bright Lights & Promises will appeal to followers of entertaining and socially conscious jazz artists such as Dee Dee Bridgewater and Nina Simone.
Ian has joked that she’s made a career of writing songs that make people uncomfortable. Yet her songs have comforted us for over 50 years. Singing for a nearly full house, Partridge connected completely with the powerlessness and anguish of “Society’s Child,” underscored by a fine arrangement. That story of forbidden, interracial teen romance seemed timely in the current political climate. Partridge sang most of “At Seventeen” in 7/4, fearlessly finding her own way through the well-known melody. Ian wrote the song as a 24-year-old looking back, as if this bitter lesson were a life sentence to loneliness, but the Grammy Award it brought her must have been a big comfort.
The audience enjoyed the familiarity, trust and mutual admiration of musicians who were also longtime friends. Players included Allen Farnham (piano; most of the arrangements), Bill Moring (bass), Tim Horner (drums, percussion); Paul Meyers (electric and acoustic guitar); Ben Stein (electric guitar); Scott Robinson (saxophone).
The surprise punchline to “A Quarter Past Heartache” got a huge laugh. On the CD, Ian adds backup vocals to this cheery breakup song that’s one of two co-writes with Partridge. Other standouts on the CD: Partridge’s high range is purely lovely on “Forever and a Day.” One of her best interpretations, “Matthew,” recalls the tragedy of Matthew Shepard. Partridge turns “I’m Still Standing” into the song you’d want to sing at your own birthday party.