1967’s debut from Big Brother & The Holding Company, featuring Janis Joplin on lead vocals is nowhere near as bluesy as their subsequent albums. Released in the summer of 1967, it is a collection of all sub-three minute tracks and it a mixture of semi-bluesy pop/rock, mixed with a bit of country, hippy and psychedelic rock thrown in. Bye Bye Baby is rather poppy and only gets heavier and a bit bluesy near the end, while the rocking Easy Rider has real shades of of The Rolling Stones 1966 work about it. Intruder is more blatantly rocky, with some blistering drums and Janis’s voice at its growliest.
Overall, though, one cannot help but feel that this album is somewhat half-baked and there was better to come. There was.
This was Janis Joplin's second album backed by her band, Big Brother & The Holding Company. It is, bizarrely, overdubbed with crowd noises between tracks to make it sound like a live album, a deliberate move and one that convinced many at the time. It is, in fact, a studio album. To be fair, though, it has a loose, "live" feel to it throughout. It is acid-rock psychedelia in all its glory, but there is also that bluesy soulfulness that Joplin always had. A year before this had come Sgt. Pepper but this took rock music to another level altogether in some ways. Had anyone heard vocals so damn passionate, from a female artist too? Janis was no Sandie Shaw or Mary Hopkin. She blew them all away.
I Need A Man To Love is a slow burning blues rock number that features some blistering, buzzy lead guitar and Janis's vocal is raucously improvisational. Summertime is one of her most well-known tracks and it has a laid-back, melodic and bassy backing that perfectly complements Janis's throaty delivery. This is not just drug-addled psych rock, this is blues rock of the highest quality. Janis was, first and foremost, if you ask me, a blues singer. This track leaves one in no doubt about that. The bass line that runs through the song is sumptuous too. It was one of the very first examples of a rock band covering an easy listening-jazz standard. It was actually quite ground-breaking stuff.
Then, of course, there is the sheer bloody magnificence of Janis's cover of Erma Franklin's Piece Of My Heart. Janis makes the song her own with a wonderfully full-on but soulful vocal, which exemplified perfectly how rock could merge with soul effectively, especially in Janis's hands. It is a true all-time classic. The blues is back with the acoustic bar-room (complete with breaking glass) whiskey-sodden strains of Turtle Blues. Oh Sweet Mary is the most obviously psychedelic number on the album, featuring some deep, rolling drums, fuzzy psych guitar and rumbling bass. Put this on loud and imagine those swirling kaleidoscope colours, man. Very 1968. Sticking with the searing guitar sound of those crazy psychedelic parties is the extended closer, Ball And Chain, which, after a cutting guitar intro, finds itself insistently deep and bluesy. Once more, this is a track with a real "live" feeling to it, as if the band laid it down in one take. That bass is just beautiful, mama. Now, where did I put those incense sticks.....
Maybe has a slow tempo, churchy, soulful organ-brass intro like on Percy Sledge's When A Man Loves A Woman. Check out those crystal clear, razor sharp cymbals in the backing. Once more, this is a top notch slice of quality "in your face" soul. For me, this is Joplin's best stuff, using her talents just as I want them to be used. She has come out from under her Persian rug, left behind her patchouli oil and is giving us some full on soul, right between the ears. This is continued on the smouldering, deeply sensual vibe of One Good Man, a truly outstanding cut packed full of emotion and quality musicianship. "Some girls they want to collect their men, they wear 'em like notches on a gun...." bemoans Janis as she tells us she just wants one of you no-goods out there. Ir is proving a futile search. This is a marvellous blues rock/soul song, right up there as one of her very best.
The band then cut their chops on the jazzy Stax soul number As Good As You've Been To This World. A cookin' instrumental couple of minutes introduces it before Janis's sultry, seductive vocals arrive. Listen to that backing - this could be an Otis Redding track. Now we get her cover of The Bee Gees' To Love Somebody - oh my goodness, that bass-organ-horn intro leading into Janis's impassioned delivery of the chorus - some moments in music are just perfection. This is one of them. I can't speak highly enough about this track without going into too many raptures. This lifts my spirit higher. It is also one of the best female rock-soul performances of all time. God bless her.
Kozmic Blues also rises up celestially high on its soaring "it don't make no difference" chorus refrain. This is the most "blues rock" of the tracks, but its chorus is pure Stay With Me Baby soul. Little Girl Blue is just sumptuous - a magnificent, evocative cover of Rodgers and Hart's 1935 musical number. Janis's voice is up with Aretha Franklin on this, it really is. Music like this palpably moves my soul. It is pure, it is essential. Incidentally, when Janis's voice goes quiet towards the end of the song, I realised what a sweet, sexy tone her speaking voice had. Work Me, Lord is a slow-burning gospelly spiritual invocation upon which Janis takes us home. Listen to the bass-drum-organ-guitar bit around three minutes in - I've run out of superlatives now and need to check my Thesaurus. Sweet Jesus, I feel sanctified after listening to this. It is a truly outstanding album. Highly recommended. I must call my wife "Mama" from now on, man.
The cover of Otis Redding's I Can't Turn You Loose is a favourite of mine, although it doesn't feature Joplin on lead vocals, instead Cornelius Flowers making it sound like something from "WattStax". Piece Of My Heart is not quite the anthem it should have been here and the opener, Eddie Floyd's Raise Your Hand is a bit of a mess, if I'm honest. This is all being a bit nit-picking on my part, though, as this was a barnstorming set, showcasing Joplin's new soul style while retaining that hard rock, bluesy and psychedelic feel in places too. Her stage persona was so dominating that there was always going to be something good to take away from it. This is a very enjoyable release indeed. I have played it over and over recently.
Move Over is instantly captivating, its drum-driven rhythm and Janis's gritty vocal grab you firmly by the balls. I first came across it, strangely enough, covered impressively by Slade back in 1972. Cry Baby is a perfect slice of typical Janis blues rock - full of powerful rock backing, slow build verses and a simply soaring vocal. "You could go all the way to Katman-duh" Janis tells us, majestically, on her spoken bit before the huge last crashing chorus. It really doesn't get much better than this, does it? Just listen to the wonderful organ break on A Woman Left Lonely. At times the backing is almost as inspirational as this quirky, problem-beset woman's voice was. Once again, this track is toweringly magnificent - the absolute dog's bollocks.
Half Moon has an infectious, slightly poppy rhythm with some funky guitar, impressive piano and catchy drums. Vocally, Janis could cope with whatever the backing demanded of her. Oh did I forget the bass line on this - got it, its bloody superb. This was Janis going funk rock to the nth degree. Great stuff. Buried Alive In The Blues is a stonking organ-driven instrumental for which Janis was supposed to and vocals to the day after she was found dead. Janis is thankfully back on the peerless, solid rock of My Baby, which features a big, rousing, gospel-like chorus. Then we get a Joplin classic in her interpretation of Kris Kristofferson’s country ‘on the road’ song Me And Bobby McGee. Janis tones down her bluesy bombast for this song and she does it so well, giving it a real soulful atmosphere. You really feel you are getting into that truck with her. Mercedes Benz is a short a capella song that has been often used in films or covered by other artists. Janis tells us huskily that she wants the Lord to buy her a Mercedes Benz. A bit materialistic of her - surely she could make do with a few incense sticks....Trust Me is a return to copper-bottomed Janis soulful blues rock that features some E St. Band-style piano while the muscular rock of Get It While You Can has some superb organ breaks and guess what? Another killer vocal. God bless you Janis. This album bears true testament to your talent.