It took a while but one night last July Janey Street stood at a crossroads.
Now, to be sure, this wasn’t her first trip to one of life’s milestones. Growing up in Queens, New York, she’d tasted fame just out of high school on Arista Records, signed by legendary executive Clive Davis. Two of her singles, “Under The Clock” and “Say Hello To Ronnie,” had charted on Billboard.
A few years later, though, she scuffled for work in Southern California; whether writing music for movies or painting houses, she did what she had to do to get by. Later, persuaded by her longtime friend Janis Ian to move to Nashville, she mentored young songwriters, gave house concerts, opened one memorable night for Levon Helm at The Ramble at The Barn in Woodstock NY…and painted a few more houses, waitressed and even performed as a clown for hire.
She kept writing and recording too. Blues legend Ruth Brown recorded Street’s song “Hangin’ By A Shoestring,” on her Grammy-nominated album A Good Day For The Blues. In 2009 Street self-released her own homage to the blues, The Street Less Traveled, which impacted the charts and inspired positive reviews throughout the blues community.
Then one day Blue Élan Records founder Kirk Pasich called from out of the blue. When he invited Street to join his roster, she jumped at the chance to affiliate with an artist-friendly imprint and ignite the singer/songwriter fires that had originally put her on the industry map.
With her new label’s backing, Street released My Side Of Paradisein 2016. “After a long time of not writing for myself, it was an explosion,” she confides. “It was like, ‘Oh, my God, all of this music is inside of me!’”
All of which leads to that July night at Nashville’s City Winery. More than an album release party, this event was also a fundraiser for the Gilda’s Club, whose support opportunities for cancer victims and their relatives had assisted Street through several challenging times. Music biz heavyweights and fans filled the room. They’d already enjoyed an opening in-the-round set by some of Street’s co-writers and a stunning solo performance by Janis Ian.
Street and her eight-piece band capped the evening with a sizzling presentation of her new material. Local media reported the news: One of America’s most vital songwriters was back and at the peak of her creative power.
“I even made it into Music Row Magazine,” she said, referring to Nashville’s music industry insider publication. Then she laughs: “Hey, for a New York Jew living in Nashville, that’s a big deal!”
Riding this momentum, Street headed back to L.A. to play with label mate Gerry Beckley (founder and member of the band America) at the historic Whiskey A Go Go. But already, right after releasing her Blue Élan debut, she was getting restless. My Side Of Paradise was epic…but Street knew it was time to move forward. Those fires were still burning, too hot to ignore.
“So within six months of releasing Paradise, I wrote a new album,” she reports. “If that first album was like an explosion, this one was more about concentrating on what I really wanted to say. I’d built the foundation with Paradise, so now I could relax and fall a little deeper into myself.”
The songs for her new album, In My Own Skin, came quickly as her always acute observations of life translated into her reinvigorating creative process. “In fact, I wouldn’t even describe my writing as a process,” Street insists. “It’s more about capturing a moment. I’m extremely spontaneous. I don’t think about it. It took me only three minutes to write ‘Under The Clock.’ I just sat in my kitchen in Hermosa Beach and boom! It just came out.”
That song, which made her an MTV phenomenon, is recreated as a bonus track on In My Own Skin. But everything else is brand new. Street’s music is solidly crafted, with roots in retro R&B, rock ’n’ roll and multiple other genres. Her lyrics are timeless though flavored by current concerns. On “Wrap My Mind Around You,” a hip, finger-snap groove accompanies Street’s playful juxtaposition of love’s complexities with the trivialities of reality TV. “Sex Is Easy Love Is Hard” and “I Wanna Love You Deep” search similarly for connection in superficial times. And on “When You Are Loved,” which she wrote with Muscle Shoals veteran Billy Lawson, she extols real friendship, as rare a commodity as romance, as a classic gospel/soul groove simmers in the background.
On the other hand, what’s wrong with having a little fun, she asks on “Guilty Pleasures,” whether with “sex toys” or “naughty joys,” through “smoking dope” or “watching soaps”? She finds humor as well in the indecision new lovers have eternally confronted in “Mixed Up.”
Street is unafraid to alternate observational songs with more private reflections. On the title cut, she reflects that “we live and die alone, trapped inside the four walls of our souls.” To the rhythmic strum of an acoustic guitar, she begins “Undone” with a question: “Is it me or the world that seems to be unraveling?” “I see a man in the street, holding up a sign: need work, something to eat,’” she continues. “Driving by, I think someday that can be could be me.” The folky lightness of the performance brings her secret rumination into a brighter light.
On the penultimate track, “Dignity,” we come one last time to a place we know well, where hope and harsh reality live together uneasily. With guest artist Dame Crawford mirroring the cautious optimism of her vocal with his impassioned rap, Street embraces us all — faceless office workers isolated in cubicles, women being “shut out…in a man’s world,” “a young man living in the hood just trying to get out”…Wall Street insiders who mistake greed for happiness. The title, chanted in each chorus, questions the barriers that separate us by pointing to the one quality that can redeem us all.
In the end, In My Own Skin marks the next step in in Street’s rebirth as an artist. But it’s much more than that. “It’s organic,” she emphasizes. “I loved working with producer Dave Darling again. This time we went for a more organic roots rock/Americana sound. The songs called for that kind of approach. I am very proud of My Side Of Paradise. It was a great first Blue Élan record. It won the LA Music Critic Award for best Indie CD 2016. Not too shabby. But this new record is more about reclaiming who I really am, writing and singing Janey Street songs.”
No one does that better than her. This Street runs one way only, through secret neighborhoods of the heart and on toward new horizons. Get in gear, crank it up and join the ride…