Bye Bye Baby/Easy Rider/Intruder/Light Is Faster Than Sound/Call On Me/Coo Coo/Women Is Losers/Blindman/Down On Me/Caterpillar/All Is Loneliness/The Last Time
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.
Coo Coo again ends just as you are getting in to it, some nice guitar but it sounds like a cutting room demo, to be honest.
All Is Loneliness has an infectious bass line and a real hippy bass and bongos vibe and another great Joplin vocal. There is something appealing about this one. It has a sort of hazy sixties psychedelic party feel about it.
Overall, though, one cannot help but feel that this album is somewhat half-baked and there was better to come. There was.
Combination Of The Two/I Need A Man To Love/Summertime/Piece Of My Heart/Turtle Blues/Oh, Sweet Mary/Ball And Chain
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.
Beginning with some of that afore-mentioned crowd noise, Combination Of The Two bursts from a heavy rock intro to an upbeat, pulsating piece of rock/soul with Joplin trading vocals with others in the band over a frenetic drum backing. It ends with some typical late sixties psychedelic-sounding guitar before some more "ooh-ooh" soul vocals take us to the finish.
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.
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.....
Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Maybe/One Good Man/As Good As You've Been To This World/To Love Somebody/Kozmic Blues/Little Girl Blues/Work Me, Lord
This, Janis Joplin's first "solo" album, is a great one for me. I love soul, I love rock, and this mixes the two wonderfully in an intoxicating concoction of Joplin's bluesy, coarse voice and some soulful Stax-like, horn-driven backing. It was somewhat poorly received upon release by fans expecting more Big Brother & The Holding Company-style psychedelic hard rock. What they got was a masterpiece of rocking soul. Joplin utilised a brass and horn section to get the sound she was looking for, which was something her previous colleagues in Big Brother had refused her. I have read reviews praising Joplin's voice but criticising the band, God knows why. Personally, I think the band cook to boiling point and complement her voice incredibly well. It is a marvellous album and is my favourite in Joplin's all too small catalogue.
It was actually the only solo album released while she was still alive.
A wonderful Stax-style shuffling bass/drum interplay starts the album on Try (Just A Little Bit Harder), the punch of the horns kicks in and Janis's husky shriek soars above it all. Lordy mama, I love this. The sound quality is superb as well - full, warm and bassy. For lovers of soul and blues rock like myself this is manna from Heaven.
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.
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.
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.
Raise Your Hand/As Good As You've Been To This World/To Love Somebody/Summertime/Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)/Kozmic Blues/Can't Turn You Loose/Work Me, Lord/Piece Of My Heart/Ball And Chain
As mentioned in the review above, Joplin's as yet unreleased album was very much a Stax-influenced soul workout, she deviates a little from the Memphis sound to please her rock audience here and the five tracks from her upcoming offering were given more of a rock flavour. Despite the punchy presence of the Stax-style horns/brass section there is a fair amount of psychedelic hard rock improvisation from Joplin's soul revue-type band. However, what were soaring, soulful delights on the studio album are, I have to say, just a little messy in their live incarnations. Joplin's massive presence and the sheer power of the band make them still eminently pleasurable but I prefer the studio versions every day.
To Love Somebody, for example, while still supremely powerful, lacks the uplifting soul chutzpah of the studio version and the same applies to Try (Just A Little Bit Harder). That said, though, it was 2 am in the morning and Janis and the band had been hanging around for ages so a bit of "what the hell" looseness is to be expected.
Kozmic Blues is great, however, as is the Stax-y beat of As Good As You've Been To This World. Work Me Lord is even bluesier than its studio counterpart.
As for the other songs, Summertime is a magnificent piece of rock innovation, and Ball And Chain, while not quite the nine-minute epic it is on Big Brother & The Holding Company's Cheap Thrills is a solid piece of blues to close the set. It is introduced by Janis going off on one a bit about "it's just music, man...." and appears to be lambasting the audience slightly. It was getting late....
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".
This is a very enjoyable release indeed. I have played it over and over recently.
Move Over/Cry Baby/A Woman Left Lonely/Half Moon/Buried Alive In The Blues/My Baby/Me & Bobby McGee/Mercedes Benz/Trust Me/Get It While You Can
This was, unfortunately, Janis Joplin's final album, and a fitting epitaph it was too. Any rough, indulgent edges are smoothed over, leaving a well-produced collection of songs that managed to be concise and to the point without losing Janis's God-given ability to improvise. It catches the essence of this remarkable artist superbly. Her band, The Full Tilt Boogie Band, are absolutely top notch throughout and Janis is fully at one with them. Such a tragedy that she lost her life so soon after laying down these incredibly impressive tracks.
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.