Any audiophile worthy of the title knows this album, and the luckiest know it on vinyl. Released in 1993, originally on Morgan Creek Records, Breaking Silence is Janis Ian's most important album. Ian was already famous for her 1975 mega hit At Seventeen. Ian toured through much of her late teens and had some success. At Seventeen opened a lot of doors. New York's Village Voice 'outed' Ian as a lesbian in 1976 and the lyrics on Breaking Silence speak to her feelings about that difficult time as well as challenging subjects such as incest and the Holocaust.
The songs are beautifully crafted and all feature lovely melodies, interesting harmonies and complex rhythms. Thankfully, not Top Ten, but classic and class all the same. Listening to the album for over 20 years has not dulled its musical and spiritual effect.
Like all smart performers, Ian surrounds herself with excellence. The musicians on the LP sound like the best Steely Dan-like studio players with their tightness and ingenuity (the genre's highest compliment), but with a folk/rock inspiration. Difficult to describe, but once heard, never forgotten.
The recording, which to my ears is unique, especially in the idiom, was produced, engineered and mixed by Jeff Balding, the legendary, eight-time Grammy-nominated producer, mixer, and tracking engineer. Janis Ian also has a producer credit. There's a plethora of assisting engineers credited, too. Whoever came up with the sound construct and philosophy, bravo!
- Janis Ian — Writer, Guitars, Piano
- Jim Brock — Drums, Percussion
- Jim Hoke — Harmonica
- Chad Watson — Bass
- Dann Huff — Guitar
As you can see, a small but feisty band, with emphasis on Ian's splendid voice and an ultra talented rhythm section. Not forgetting the small but significant solo instrument contributions.
If you have the recording on a beaten up cassette, you will still hear the musicianship and feel the soul hugging inspiritus. Ian's voice comes straight from the heart and has none of the rock edge that she adopted in the early 80s. Breaking Silence encourages near field, late night listening. Ian's conversation with the listener is private—for your ears only.
That said, the LP version has been used as a large-scale show demo for as long as I can remember. Demonstrators would regale the punters with juicy jargon—the audiophile word flavour of the month (I think January 1993's word was 'colouration'!). No matter the verbiage, the glorious sound was there for all to hear.
Instrumental sounds have great immediacy. Listen to the opening of Guess You Had To Be There for the shockingly real timbres. Ensemble is as good as the sounds. This is a tight, tight band.
Interspersed through the complex, powerful rhythms are little flashes of keyboard and guitars (electric and acoustic) that give the most tactile and delicate effects. Ian’s voice is centred in the mix and is as heartbreaking as the lyrics demand.
This famous Analogue Productions reissue is the Limited Edition 45 RPM version.
I was recently in NYC for an audio event and managed a listening session at Audiophilia colleague Karl Sigman’s beautiful apartment close to Columbia University on Riverside Drive. Lately, this digifile has been ‘coming around’. His vinyl setup is now pretty spectacular (VPI Prime, Grado Statement V2 moving iron cart, Pass Labs XP-17 Phono Stage, PS Audio BHK Pre and Alta Audio FRM-2 Celeste Loudspeakers). He threw on a 33 rpm version of the Analogue Productions. I was mesmerized. Not just with the incredible sound, but with the musicality of the LP. Damnit! I lost my copy in a move several years ago.
As soon as I got home, I ordered it. Quickest to the house? Amazon. And they only had the 45 RPM. No problem.
A few days later, I took delivery of the same speakers as Karl (oh joy, oh bliss—and a huge shoutout to one of our sponsors, Alta Audio), then the LP arrived. It knocked my socks off and is well worth the extra outlay. Yes, it's better than the vaunted 33 RPM. Mainly in the effortless dynamics and bass department. Why is 45 better than 33? Here's a quickie from the web:
'Since 45s travel faster than 33s, more waveform definition can be squeezed into the format, which takes up more room. More bumps and grooves created in pressing a 45 means better audio quality.'
Sigman will be visiting the island soon. He better be prepared for a few musical and aural surprises.
- All Roads To The River—3:05
- Ride Me Like A Wave—3:40
- Guess You Had To Be There—4:07
- What About The Love—4:58
- His Hands—5:17
- Walking On Sacred Ground—3:26
- This Train Still Runs—4:03
- Through The Years—3:40
- This House—5:05
- Some People's Lives—3:52
- Breaking Silence—3:09
The two 180g LPs are housed in a gorgeous gatefold cover with all lyrics and very detailed recording details. Very highly recommended.