So you think you know Street Music?
That depends on what the expression means to you. Maybe it suggests battling for survival and laughing about it from one struggle to the next. Or finding your way through a sometimes indifferent world while always staying young. Above all, it might mean telling your story through music that rings with humor, truth, wisdom and plenty of soul.
If so, the time has come to meet Janey Street. Her name alone sets the stage for her debut EP for Blue Élan Records. In just five songs, this street leads through varied neighborhoods of the heart, where “there’s beauty in the pain” of life (“I’m Not The Girl I Used To Know”), where it can be a mistake to take trivial troubles too seriously (“Situation”), sad experience is worth acquiring (“Tears Taste The Same”), determination helps weather the wounds of love (“Bring It On”) and a sweet, swaggering joy comes from growing up in the … well, the street (“My Side Of Paradise”).
Not to belabor the point, but Street was truly a street kid, New York born and bred. Three major labels spotted her talent and signed her up to successive deals: The first was with Warner Bros. when she was still in high school, after which she was picked up by Capitol Records and then welcomed to the Arista Records roster by legendary executive Clive Davis. Two singles, “Under The Clock” and “Say Hello To Ronnie,” charted on Billboard. She settled into an oceanside house in Southern California. And then …
“ … they dropped me,” she says, one afternoon in a coffee den popular with songwriters in Nashville, now Street’s hometown. “Even back then, a lot of people told me, ‘You’re too old to get another deal.’ So I kept playing around L.A. I did a lot of songwriting behind the scenes. I wrote stuff for movies. I also painted houses. I did what I could to survive.”
Then her longtime friend Janis Ian suggested she move to Nashville. A series of writing dates awaited her and persuaded her to stick around. “I got a couple of publishing deals. I kept the film and TV things going. I went on the road and did some house concerts. I also kept painting houses. I was a waitress at Cracker Barrel, which was a disaster. I worked for a disability lawyer. I did workshops for the Nashville Songwriters Association at their chapters all over the country. I was even a clown for a while.”
Here Street laughs, with no shame or inhibition; heads turn in her direction. “I was so bad at being a clown! This young guy I was writing with booked me into an audition in Chattanooga to do clown gigs at public libraries. These women who were librarians from all over Tennessee were in this classroom. I started doing balloon animals and everything was going wrong. I kept saying, ‘No, wait, I can do this!’ Then I tried magic tricks and kept screwing the whole thing up. The librarians thought it was part of my act! And my friend, he’s in the back, just peeing in his pants.”
And she kept writing. Sessions with Gary Burr, Liz Rose, and other Music Row icons sharpened her technical chops and ability to create music. Other artists picked up some of her songs, including blues legend Ruth Brown, who included the Janey Street/Jonnie Barnett composition “Hangin’ By A Shoestring” on her Grammy-nominated album A Good Day For The Blues.
At the same time, Street channeled her more artistic energies into songs that expressed her personal truths, never really thinking these were destined to be released. In 2009, she self-released a solo project, The Street Less Traveled, on which she honored her blues and R&B roots. The album impacted the blues charts in the United States.
“The Street Less Traveled was a labor of love,” Street recalls, smiling. “It got incredible reviews and got me a couple of really cool gigs. But I couldn’t get a gig in a blues club — and even if I could, they hardly paid anything. So I figured I’d better start trying to find some other way to be comfortable at this point of my life, hopefully without being a clown.”
Then, one day, a phone call turned her world upside down. Music industry veteran Kirk Pasich had just launched a new label, Blue Élan Records, with a mission to bring “expertise, perseverance, a long history of working with talent and an environment that fosters creativity on the artist’s terms.” As it happens, he was also a dedicated fan of Street’s music, which inspired him to track her down and make her an offer she dared not refuse.
Street accepted Pasich’s invitation to join the Blue Élan roster. “But I had no Janey Street songs,” she says. “I mean, I had a hundred songs, things that I’d written with young artists for other people to try and get cuts. But they weren’t Janey Street songs. There’s a difference.”
What to do? Street shrugged — it was obvious. “I wrote a bunch of new stuff in six weeks, took it to Blue Élan and they went nuts. Within the next month, I was recording in L.A.
“Looking back on it now, it was like a light switch turned on and this whole bunch of songs just exploded and flowed out of me,” she continues. “Making the record was the same kind of thing. It’s what we call magic. After writing for other artists and for film and TV placements for years, it was like all these new Janey Street songs had been just dormant inside of me. These songs are self-expressive, insightful and simply things I can sing the shit out of. And because the label is so cool and progressive, because they trusted me and my songs and my producer Dave Darling, we made a killer record. It has been an amazing time of creative energy and having good folks around me — something I hadn’t felt in a long time.”
What we have, then, is something highly unusual these days: an artist who didn’t just fall off the turnip truck who nonetheless writes and sings fully in the moment. Her voice is strong, sometimes tender, maybe a little scarred by actually living life as it is, as opposed to singing pop confections about what someone else imagines it to be. It’s also sexy and sassy, intimate as a whisper and powerful enough to rock arenas.
With a full album soon to be released, this Street is now open and ready to explore. Buckle up and get ready to ride.
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