Live Review: Janet May at Williamsburg Music Hall in Brooklyn, NY

Material: Janet May’s vision of change and social activism made its way to her home turf as part of the artist's current national tour. Her causes run the gamut from women’s rights, to those of immigrants and the LGBTQ community, packaging those messages with accessible musical moments and performed with tender fortitude. She has helped open shelters for those affected, as well as a monthly residency at Riker’s Island Women’s Jail, bringing awareness to massive incarcerations.

Apropos that topic, in the most poignant song of the set, “Feet On The Dashboard,” May addresses this issue in her lament in ¾ time: We slept with our feet on the dashboard that night/the cops said it wasn’t worth the wait/we weighed with our hearts and the lumps in our throat/and we whispered your name and we prayed…why does this happen to me.

Further highlighting women’s causes, “Lessons To Learn” warns of the struggle women face to be recognized for who they fully are, without repercussions: A woman who loves herself is one of most dangerous of gods/and that ain’t so easily done/but I’m aiming high…My mistakes seem to repeat/only like a revolver/and the lessons I have to learn/can be over and over.

Musicianship: May’s one-woman tour employs an electric guitar and a sole string line emanating from a vinyl player hidden behind her. Those two elements, along with May’s voice, work in tandem to create an ethereal effect.

Performance: Decked out in a black sequin gown (not what you might expect from an activist), May brought an elegance and presence to the stage, furthering her brand. The choice of wardrobe, juxtaposed with subject matter, was often incongruous with the delicate nature of the music, but proof that there are many ways to convey a message. To buttress her mission, it might be a plus to add a memorable cover that once rallied people to a particular cause.

Summary: May opts for the more subtle and reflective approach to put forth her agenda. If activist issues are not your thing, there is enough in May’s music to appreciate it at face value. Adding a well-known cover of another socially conscious song might bring even more listeners into the fold.

Contact: [email protected]

Web: thisisjanetmay.com

Players: Janet May, electric guitar, vinyl violin line