Monday, 9 September 2019

Janis Joplin - The Woodstock Experience (1969)

It's just music, man....

This compilation release contains the remastered I Got Them Ol' Kozmic Blues Again, Mama! and the live recording of Janis Joplin's set at Woodstock Festival in the summer of 1969. The remastered sound of the studio album is excellent and the live set, while not 100% in its sound quality, is certainly acceptable to a proud non-audiophile like me. Considering its source from those chaotic few muddy days on Yasgur's Farm it is actually pretty good and definitely listenable.

I GOT THEM OL' KOZMIC BLUES AGAIN, MAMA!

  

Released on 11 September 1969

Running time 37.31

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.

TRACK LISTING

1. Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
2. Maybe
3. One Good Man
4. As Good As You've Been To This World
5. To Love Somebody
6. Kozmic Blues
7. Little Girl Blues
8. Work Me, Lord                                                      

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. There are hints of Aretha Franklin's Chain Of Fools in the backing vocals too - "try, try, try"/"chain, chain, chain...".

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.

LIVE AT WOODSTOCK 17th AUGUST 1969

  

TRACK LISTING

1. Raise Your Hand
2. As Good As You've Been To This World
3. To Love Somebody
4. Summertime
5. Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
6. Kozmic Blues
7. Can't Turn You Loose
8. Work Me, Lord
9. Piece Of My Heart
10. 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". 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.

A - for the studio album
B- - for the live material



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