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"Every day I'm trying to move forward but something is driving me back"
|Main Category:||Soul Music|
|Also applicable:||Rhythm & Blues|
|Starting Period:||The Psychedelic Years|
|Also active in:||The Artsy/Rootsy Years|
Disclaimer: this page is not written by from the point of view of a Janis Joplin fanatic and is not generally intended for narrow-perspective Janis Joplin fanatics. If you are deeply offended by criticism, non-worshipping approach to your favourite artist, or opinions that do not match your own, do not read any further. If you are not, please consult the guidelines for sending your comments before doing so. For information on reviewing principles, please see the introduction. For specific non-comment-related questions, consult the message board.
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Back in the happy days of my childhood, when my musical knowledge didn't stretch far beyond 'Strawberry Fields Forever' and I'd only just begun to soften a little bit towards some of the Stones' material, my mother, in a vain attempt to make me broaden the horizons (not that she ever succeeded), called me into the guestroom and put on Joplin In Concert. 'What the hell is that?" was my initial reaction - the gesture turned me off Janis for at least ten years. This sounded so unlike anything I'd ever heard, so weird and so nasty, with her hoarse screams making me run for cover - I lost faith in my mother's musical taste after that. Oh boy... of course I was just being stupid.Now that time has cured all wounds, I can gleefully and sincerely admit that Janis Joplin was one of the most incredible, if not the most incredible, white female singer in rock (aka soul, funk, whatever) music. Aw shucks, let me just lose my political correctness for a moment and drop that 'white' prefix - the greatest female singer in rock, period. I'm not going to argue that Janis was more technically gifted than Aretha Franklin or even Diana Ross, of course, but if technical proficiency and range were the only things that mattered in this world, we'd never really respect either Bob Dylan or Rod Stewart, now wouldn't we? It's the passion and energy that matters. Much as I respect Aretha Franklin, she never gave more of herself to the stage than she was capable of. Janis did - she gave it all of her body and all of her soul and she would give it a second body if she could, too. Moreover, it is her singing that's the primary important thing for her - not her cultural legendary status. Her untimely and tragic death in 1970 might have turned her, along with Hendrix and Morrison, into a somewhat overrated symbol of the hippie movement and its illusions, but that's a matter for rock historians, really. People often wonder about what would happen were she to remain alive, sometimes drawing rather drastic conclusions; thus, John Alroy (on the W&A site), analyzing her Pearl album, states that she was quickly moving into a conventional soft rock direction and her death actually saved her from disgrace. Could well be. But does this potential disgrace affect the artistic value of her actual output? Nay says I! Of course, Janis was never a talented songwriter (her several efforts are either plain grooves or totally ineffective and derivative). But she never even pretended to be one, mostly relying on her backing bands (which weren't as bad as they're sometimes described, by the way). On the other side, in her hands (or should I say - in her throat) even the most clumsy and unimaginative melody could become pure gold. Take any of the songs on Cheap Thrills and donate them to any other less vocally distinctive artist. And hear what happens. Better not. Truth is, one just has to cut out all the mythological babbling about Janis and simply take her for what she is/was. These reviews here aren't considering Janis as a Sixties fetish. These reviews are reflecting my considerations on why songs sung by Janis are so entertaining today, maybe even more entertaining than they were back in 1967 or 1970, simply because nobody ever managed to beat her at her job. Of course, it's not that the two aspects (Janis the singer and Janis the guru) aren't connected at all. Janis - just like Jimi, Jim, Pete Townshend and lots of others - lived and worked on illusion. If it weren't for the music-will-save-the-world ideal, we'd probably hardly know anything about her at all; as it was, the ideal was what really carried her on and gave her voice so much raw, exciting, furious power. This was real life - not art for the sake of art. That's what makes Janis a true and genuine star as compared to, say, the not less talented, but certainly much more artificial and commercial Rod Stewart (an indirect reply to W&A again), and, in fact, it's hard for me to imagine a situation recreating, not to mention surpassing, the idealistic boiling pot of the late Sixties. That's why we'll never have another Janis - at least, not in our lifetime. Let us also not forget her first and best backing band - Big Brother And The Holding Company: Sam Andrew (guitars, vocals); James Gurley (guitar); Pete Albin (bass); Dave Getz (drums). Quite often they get hailed as one of the worst rock bands in history, with clumsy, self-indulgent guitarists that hid their absolute musical incompetency behind a wall of distortion and loudness. But let us get this straight: as a self-contained band they certainly were nothing special, which is amply demonstrated by the few Joplin-less songs on their first album. As a backing band, however, they managed to create the right kind of sound for Janis to rely on: harsh, rough, aggressive and messy - just like her voice. I think they managed to merge quite all right - unlike her later experiments with, say, the Full Tilt Boogie Band and the brass section. Give 'em their due.
Listenability: 3/5. The
bad thing is that too often, Janis teamed with the wrong people - her leaving
Big Brother was a mistake, as far as I'm concerned.
Resonance: 5/5. Sure, her voice can turn some people off, but all it takes is to simply get used to it, and then the spirits start to rise...
Originality: 2/5. Maybe a full "five out of five" for social reasons; musically, not so much, but...
Adequacy: 4/5. Sometimes maybe Janis takes on a far more portentous role than should be allowed, but only sometimes.
Diversity: 1/5. Sorry guys... nothing to do about that one.
Overall: 3.0 = C on the rating scale.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1967
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
A promising start - but there's a bit too much generic San Francisco about this record. Where's da Jenis, I wonder?Best song: LAST TIME
Track listing: 1) Bye Bye Baby; 2) Easy Rider; 3) Intruder; 4) Light Is Faster Than Sound; 5) Call On Me; 6) Women Is Losers; 7) Blindman; 8) Down On Me; 9) Caterpillar; 10) All Is Loneliness; 11) Coo Coo; 12) The Last Time; [BONUS TRACKS:] 13) Call On Me (alternate version); 14) Bye Bye Baby (alternate take).
If you're only familiar with Janis' greatest hits or sumpthin', her debut album - together with Big Brother - will strike you as somewhat atypical of both Janis and Big Brother. Just about a couple of numbers on this, nearly completely inconspicuous, record, sound like classic Janis. As everybody knows, the trademark Brother sound was built on two main ingredients - Janis' violent screaming attacks and the guitarists' paranoid, over-distorted solos. But on this self-titled album, the guitarists are rather quiet, mostly using standard guitar tones and trying to evade feedback like every normal boy at the time should (apparently, by the time of recording they hadn't yet had the opportunity to suck in enough Hendrix influences). And as for Janis, she sounds amazingly humble and subtle - either she hadn't yet realized all the possibilities of her voice at the time, or she just hadn't yet had her famous megadose of acid. She just sounds as an emotive, at times bordering on overemotive, blues/R'n'B female singer with a voice that's powerful enough... but not enough to beat out her best San Franciscan concurrent - Grace Slick. At such a rate, Janis could never have hoped to become a legend. Hell, even the later stage favourites, recorded here for the first time, are timid and shallow: as great as the traditional 'Down On Me' (and no, it's not about oral sex) is, just about any available live recording of the song, with Janis' incredible 'DOWN ON ME-E-E-E!' acting as a mind-blowing climax to the song, rips this version to shreds.I don't really know if it's Janis' self-inassuredness caused the fact that she doesn't sing lead vocals on many of the tracks or if it's vice versa, but facts are facts: quite a few of the numbers feature the band's guitarists on vocals, and it's not particularly impressive. Okay, so maybe they weren't the worst band in the world, but without Janis, or with her presence subdued, they were just an average San Francisco band. Nothing more. 'Blindman', for instance: what a typical R'n'B workout for a band like Quicksilver Messenger Service (except that QMS would have made it far more effective and gripping - like 'Pride Of Man', for instance). It's not a bad song, and the refrain about showing me the way to go home is even kinda catchy, but there's absolutely no reason why I should be listening to this instead of the above-mentioned QMS or, hey, the Airplane, don't forget the Airplane... And what about 'Light Is Faster Than Sound'? Again, it's been later done better in concert, but isn't that proof irrefutable that Big Brother should never really try their hand at psychedelia? Don't forget the Airplane! Apart from that, the dudes try a comic approach at times, deeply embarrassing themselves with the lyrically stupid 'Easy Rider' and 'Caterpillar'. If not for both tunes' irresistable catchiness, I'd really be angry at a song with lines like 'Well I got me a girl with a diamond ring/I tell you boy she knows how to shake that thing', not to mention that the guitar playing on that one is particularly rudimentary; but, for some strange reason, the damn thing just doesn't seem to get out of my head after just a single listen. I'll have to assume that James Gurley is an incredibly talented songwriter. I'll also have to assume that Peter Albin is an incredible songwriter, because, as dumb as 'Caterpillar' is, I challenge you to deny its melody. My main gripe is that the line 'I'm an abominable snowman' does not fit in the rhythm pattern and they have to truncate it to something like 'I'm an abomnsnowman'. Okay, so of course they aren't really great songwriters - these melodies are as trivial as can be, mostly recycling classic country and R'n'B cliches. Listenable, but kinda trashy, if you know what I mean - this is the kind of hippie stuff that really gives the movement a bad name, together with After Bathing At Baxter's, heh heh. Err-hmm. Hmph. Pardon me. That kinda returns us to Janis - ultimately, her voice may not be in great form on here, but it's still the Janis-dominated numbers that salvage the record. I think I already mentioned 'Down On Me'; there's also the great countryish ballad 'Bye Bye Baby', the second best known song off the album, with magnificent hooks and more personality than all the other members of the band put together could ever hope to muster. The real highlight, though, is, of course, the moody, desperate 'All Is Loneliness' (once again, done better in concert), where the band members harmonize with Janis to create a unique, dreamy, yet menacing vocal atmosphere. They may have been trying to emulate the Airplane again on that one, but hit upon something slightly different - no wonder, as the vocal stylistics of Janis and Grace are completely unlike each other. Besides that, there's some relatively uninspired stuff - Janis contributes two short 'rockers' of her own ('Intruder', 'Women Is Losers'), which hardly go anywhere, recaptures it on Albin's somewhat more impressive 'Coocoo', and loses it completely on the ridiculously overblown 'Call On Me', which is just a very very bad 'soul' number. Sloppily played and based on Motownish vocal cliches, it obviously shows how Janis and the traditional 'soul' values were really incompatible. The recent CD edition adds some bonus tracks to the album, too - including alternate takes on 'Call On Me' and 'Bye Bye Baby' - but there's just one short number here that really made me stand by my rating of ten: the B-side single track 'The Last Time' (Janis' own, NOT a cover of the Stones!!) easily annihilates the rest of the album. It's probably the first song in Janis' repertoire where she really discovered the power of her voice: it's still not as hoarse as later, but it's close, and it's more important that this is where for the first time she really throws out her trademark trick - hitting the listener on the head with an ultra-powered vocal assault, waves upon waves of hot, emotional shrieks and screams. Unfortunately, at just a two-minute running time, the song is dreadfully short, and so far I'm not even aware of its ever having been performed live. Not that it's really worth owning the album for this number alone - the critics usually revile it, and for understandable reasons; and yet, it still makes a good listen and a good laugh after all these years. Janis singing a bunch of simplistic, catchy melodies. Why not? And another thing. None of the songs ever goes over three minutes! Now that's kind of a rarity for a Joplin album, doncha think?
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1998
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Great live album! But, unfortunately (or fortunately), Janis live and Janis in the studio are exactly the same thing.Best song: SUMMERTIME
Track listing: 1) Down On Me (version 1); 2) Flower In The Sun; 3) I Need A Man To Love; 4) Bye Bye Baby; 5) Easy Rider; 6) Combination Of The Two; 7) Farewell Song; 8) Piece Of My Heart; 9) Catch Me Daddy; 10) Magic Of Love; 11) Summertime; 12) Light Is Faster Than Sound; 13) Ball And Chain; 14) Down On Me (version 2).
Big Brother mostly built their reputation on live shows, playing lots of venues in San Francisco and all over the States, so that they didn't even bother about recording their new material properly in the studio (Cheap Thrills mostly consists of live material). Therefore, this album can easily serve you as a good substitute for both of their original LP's, as well as for the later Farewell Song: practically all of Janis' big hits and lots of smaller, but none the less interesting tunes are included. The CD is actually a complete recording of their two shows played in Mid-April at Winterland, San Francisco, with everything to recommend it and practically nothing to despise about it. The liner notes can be kinda draggy at times, but they're still fun to read. The sound quality is quite tolerable, maybe even excellent at times. The only possible pick is that there are two versions of 'Down On Me' on here - opening and closing the album; but this, together with all the stage banter, even the most boring bits of it, being preserved, only confirms the idea that both of the sets are included in their completeness - a thing rarely cared about by record companies.Chronologically, this is the band's next album after the self-titled one, and it's really important, because this is the era when Janis finally made the ultimate transgression and got completely loose on stage. Both shows are rather short, with seven songs in each performance, but it's fairly obvious every such show had to leave the poor girl completely exhausted, and not just because it was hard to get her lungs overcome the double guitar distortion, of course. This is where Janis becomes the unstoppable live monster, the 'give-it-yer-all' epiphany of American rock, together with Hendrix. The problem with the album, of course, is that you really don't need it if you've already got the original LP's. Even 'Summertime' sounds catastrophically close to the studio original; what can be said then of tunes like 'Combination Of The Two' whose original versions were live as well? I mean, you already heard 'Combination Of The Two' live on Cheap Thrills (recorded at the Fillmore, by the way, just a couple of feet and a couple of dates away from Winterland), why should you bother about hearing it here? And, in fact, the version of 'Ball And Chain' used on Cheap Thrills seems to be the very one found on here. Well... actually, the liner notes say 'all tracks previously unreleased', so I suppose the tapes for Cheap Thrills were ultimately taken off some other live recording, but that's up to the qualified Janis specialist to really determine. Okay, here are my reasons for listening to it (not just possessing it, I mean): I really treat this live album as a magnificent compilation which can easily be listened to instead of listening to the patchy original albums - after all, it does include all of Cheap Thrills' best moments ('Combination Of The Two', 'I Need A Man To Love', 'Summertime', 'Ball And Chain', etc.), without including its worst ('Oh Sweet Mary'). Also, since the debut album is really so hard to find, this is where you're gonna find a great version of 'Down On Me' (actually, like I said, two great versions of 'Down On Me' which differ from each other about as much as your average Siamese twins), 'Bye Bye Baby' and the silly hippy excesses of 'Easy Rider' (which now has partially new lyrics with a far more offensive scent than in the original. Which isn't to say that the song has become any less stupid than before - it's still the stinker of the show). You'll also get 'Farewell Song', 'Magic Of Love' and 'Catch Me Daddy' - the three best cuts on Farewell Song. And 'Light Is Faster Than Sound' is significantly redone: it's been expanded and 'powerified' as compared to the studio version, but I still don't favour the psychedelic jamming that much. So, whatever. If you're really skint on money, you can easily buy this one and bravely lie to everybody that you've heard all the Big Brother albums you could take. I mean, this can easily be your first Joplin buy - if you manage to find it (all these archive releases tend to be kinda rare and go out of print rather quickly). The band is in good form, really. And the accompanying liner notes are excellent: Jaan Uhelszki is a great narrator, supplying tons of interesting Janis details, not to mention that he's just about the only person I've encountered who has a few kind words to say about the band itself. That part when he tells about how Big Brother were rehearsing for these shows for eight hours per day and the critics still put them down nearly brought me to tears, heh heh. (Isn't it a pity they didn't realize themselves to be the talentless jackasses they really were? Then again, like I said, it doesn't bother me in the least). Plus the cool photos and the sayings of notorious female performers of how Janis actually influenced their career. (Isn't this kinda sexist, though - do they mean that Janis never influenced any notorious male performers?) By the way, did ya hear the one about Debbie Harry serving a steak to Janis one day? Well then, go buy the record!
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1968
Record rating = 10
Overall rating = 13
The quintessence of the Janis & Big Brother sound: loud, unprofessional, raw and steaming. Buy it if you're uncoventional.Best song: SUMMERTIME
Track listing: 1) Combination Of The Two; 2) I Need A Man To Love; 3) Summertime; 4) Piece Of My Heart; 5) Turtle Blues; 6) Oh Sweet Mary; 7) Ball And Chain.
There's just seven songs on this album, most of them recorded live, but most of them are also able to make the point effectively. The point - this is the centerpiece of the Janis legend, and quite deservedly so. The material is mostly self-penned, although Janis is no composer: her only solo number is a weak blues with autobiographical lyrics as the only attraction ('Turtle Blues'). I hate it when people appropriate generic blues melodies and pass it off as 'their own' compositions by adding a couple lyrics. Kinda dishonest, isn't it. Even if her singing is quite all right.But Sam Andrew and the other guys managed to come up with certain raggedy-rugged riffs and other musical ideas to provide the raw basis for Janis' vocal inspiration, and everything works. There's even a diversity of style: while the record begins as a fairly simplistic pop album ('I Need A Man To Love'), it goes on to touch balladry ('Summertime'), blues ('Turtle Blues') and finally becomes an all-out rockin' thing ('Ball And Chain'). And even though the actual melodies aren't that attractive, there's enough hooks in these songs to hold your attention even independently of Janis' efforts. There is, for instance, that grumbling, rising bass line on 'I Need A Man To Love'... well, the main riff of the song is actually copped off of 'Born Under A Bad Sign', but that doesn't mean it ain't great, and the rising line ('can it be now? can it be now? can it be now?') is certainly unforgettable. It's also hardly possible to resist singing along to the 'whoa-whoa-whoa's of 'Combination Of The Two'; and, of course, it's hard not to get hit by the mammoth-like intro to 'Ball And Chain'. I think there's no need to ask 'what makes this album so special?' because there's only one thing that makes a Janis Joplin album special. Janis goes through a lot of personalities on the album, but her voice is always above her 'image': whether it be the hoarse, but gentle, complaintive intonations of a caring mother on 'Summertime', rising up to the famous hysterical notes on the 'no no no no' refrain, or the raging battle-cry of 'Ball And Chain', or the fury of love on 'Piece Of My Heart', the voice is there, it's always recognizable and unmistakable. Maybe 'Summertime' is an overplayed radio classic, but I still can't help gasping for breath every time Janis brings those powerful, emotional verses to a close. She might have been a great high-pitched shrieker, but if you ask me, I would first and foremost look for the infamous 'Joplin flame' in songs like these, relatively quiet, yet fiercely and intensely burning with a special 'white flame' of their own. This is not show-off business; this is a heartfelt self-expression of a woman who is able to strip the usual singing procedure of every little bit of fakedness and excessive polish and put the 'soul' back into from where it has vanished way before (take that, Motown!). As for 'Ball And Chain', the version on here is just as mesmerizing as the famous live version from Monterey which actually was the crucial factor in turning Janis into a star. It's the logical opposite of 'Summertime' - where that one was quiet and introspective, this is Janis' reckless cry of battle, her 'My Generation' and her 'Satisfaction', only in a personalized version. This should be played at full volume, all eight or nine minutes of it, what the heck, on any system you like, with bad speakers, on chewn tapes, with shreds of Andrew's sloppy, over-distorted solo blasting through your neighbour's windows... that's the way it has to be heard in order for the correct emotional charge to be gotten. Since Janis rules supreme on the record, from this derives the fact that the only serious misfire on it is the clumsy shuffle 'Oh Sweet Mary' where Janis doesn't take lead vocals at all. Thanks enough, this is a far cry from their debut album where songs like 'Easy Rider' dominated the scene. Of course, I can easily understand the boys: having taken on Janis as lead vocalist in desperation, they never wanted to be just her backing band and always left some space for themselves. On the other hand, since they never really complained about it and didn't push Janis out (it was she who decided to continue her solo career), they were probably quite content with the state of affairs, having little or no ambitions. So it's really Janis who's to blame for deserting them - certainly as a result of the musical press' hatred towards the poor, unfortunate 'overloud thugs'. Anyway, overloud or not, they present a perfect backing for Janis' music: the desperate, dirty solo on 'Ball And Chain' might be simplistic, but it fits in excellently in between her desperate, dirty sung verses. The whole thing is supposed to be like that. It isn't Cream, and it's no Pink Floyd. This is the kind of music that's destined to drag and splutter, to get ruined in the middle and erratically get it together again. They lived on spirit and energy, not technical mastership - real spirit, I mean, not the kind of fake imitations that ninety-nine percent of highly professional and immaculately performed soul music has since become.
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1969
Record rating = 7
Overall rating = 10
The problem with this album is that it has a bit too much soul, and Janis was never really a generic soul singer.Best song: TRY
Track listing: 1) Try; 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 Blue; 8) Work Me Lord.
Whoa-hoo, what a really cool album title, dude. Janis dumped Big Brother And The Holding Company this time (I don't know if it was due to constant pressure from the critics and record business officials, but I'm sure this had a lot to do with her final decision) and, retaining just Sam Andrew, formed a temporary and highly unstable half-orchestra called 'The Kozmic Blues Band'. Apparently, she wanted to go for something different - as it turned out, 'different' scented too much of 'mainstream', but that maybe never even occurred to her stoned mind. These songs just don't have the kind of spark that was evident in Big Brother (so these lame guitarists really mattered after all). The sound is much more professional, technically smooth, rich, layered with brass, pianos and even strings on occasion, which makes Janis' voice sound lost in space at times. The main problem, however, is that there is almost no 'rock' on record - at least, not the kind of 'rock' we became used to on Cheap Thrills. These tracks are everything - soul, jazz, blues, Hollywood pop, but they don't rock out at all. Maybe it's because the guitar ain't so prominent, but even where it is (like on the generic blues 'One Good Man'), it's small consolation, because generic blues soloing doesn't really fit in with Janis' enormous potential. One has to assume that Janis' raw, intentionally sloppy way of singing was much more suitable for a raw, intentionally sloppy way of playing. Here then, she sounds like a badly trained, bored second-rate soul singer much too often, and you'd probably do better to go out and buy an Aretha Franklin or, hell, maybe even a Diana Ross album......nah. Forget that, this is still a mighty pleasant record in its own limited right. Think what you might, but Janis' voice is still an asset, and she's in quite a good condition all over the album. Furthermore, like I said, the songs rarely rock, but they're still good, and they still have that kind of rambling, 'unstructured' structure that gives Janis enough space and opportunities to stretch out. Yeah, a couple of tracks are unremarkable, like the pseudo-moody 'Kozmic Blues'; and YES, Janis also does her version of the Bee Gees' 'To Love Somebody' - now that's one number that really went right into the hearts of all American soulsters! Her version is remarkably stripped down, with no backing vocals and a complete reinterpretation of the vocal parts, but that doesn't mean that her version really beats the Bee Gees' original. One track is even downright silly - it's the orchestrated 'Little Girl Blue' where Janis sounds as if she were opening a Las Vegas presentation, perhaps the corniest moment in her entire career; still, that doesn't speak for the entire album. On the positive side, 'Try' is a great rave-up in the tradition of Big Brother, and it's the only song on the album which has that wonderful, pulsating Joplin energy to it - maybe because of the stomping rhythm track and the wonderful sly intonations in Janis' voice that suddenly resolve into all-out screaming at the most unexpected moments. And my second favourite on the album is 'Work Me Lord', for no special reason, although I strongly suspect that its inclusion into the Woodstock movie has something to do with this peculiar affection. It's very long, clocking in at over seven minutes, but it holds up for me just because the vocal delivery is totally incredible - beats 'Ball And Chain' all to hell. While many of the soulful workouts on this record do sound strained and forced, the singing on 'Work Me Lord' comes straight from the heart, and even if the song is not credited to Janis, it's incredibly personal and moving; seeing it performed in Woodstock is a really cathartic experience if you ever cared about Janis in the first place, because it's very much a musical testament. Then there's the already mentioned 'One Good Man', a good, trusty blues; the pompous 'Maybe' which might be the most bombastic song ever tried by Janis (although 'My Baby' comes close); and 'As Good As You've Been To This World', the 'speed king' of the album. By saying 'speed king', actually, I don't mean that the song is fast, it's really mid-tempo; I rather mean Janis' way of singing - rapid, spitting out words and making the listeners gasp for breath (see 'Catch Me Daddy' for another example of this rapid-fire singing, a Janis trademark). So it turns out that the album's really a good listen - terribly flawed, and never exciting enough for somebody who'd already been used to the crunchy style of Cheap Thrills, but a good listen nevertheless. Actually, I can't imagine a Janis Joplin album that wouldn't be a good listen - a great voice is a most important gift, especially if one knows how to use it. One might sneer at everything, but one cannot sneer at a great voice. These slow, mastodontic, jazzy songs might have bored me (and tons of other listeners) to death, were they sung by any generic female soul singer. Just imagine such an album in the care of Whitney Houston, for instance (God save me). Janis breathes life into these mainstreamy monsters. Whether they were sucking the real life out of her, though, that's another question (and a very serious one).
READER COMMENTS SECTION
Year Of Release: 1971
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
A serious improvement with quite a load of great tunes, but that unique Joplin style is slowly fading away.Best song: MOVE OVER
Track listing: 1) Move Over; 2) Cry Baby; 3) A Woman Left Lonely; 4) Half Moon; 5) Buried Alive In The Blues; 6) My Baby; 7) Me And Bobby McGee; 8) Mercedes Benz; 9) Trust Me; 10) Get It While You Can.
This is actually a posthumous album: Japlin died in the midst of the recording sessions so that one of the tracks ('Buried Alive In The Blues') is instrumental - she didn't have enough time to record her vocals, and the song was left on the album without vocals, as a sinister reminiscence of her untimely passing and little else. Don't take it as a serious statement by her backing band or anything: as usual, any Janis song without Janis vocals turns completely irrelevant in a matter of seconds, although 'Buried Alive' is at least rhythmic and even more or less 'hard-rockin' with the obligatory funk element thrown in. Ah, never mind.Anyway, on her second 'fully independent' record, Janis was trying to change her style once more: if Big Brother demonstrated us the wrathful rockin' Joplin and the Kozmic Blues Band demonstrated us the unsteady soul-singing Joplin, then the Full Tilt Boogie Band, this time consisting of little known session players, demonstrates us the poppy, peaceful Joplin - a Joplin surprisingly sure and at peace with herself, just revelling in a peaceful hippie delight as demonstrated on the album cover (I hate that pink wig, though!) Not that the album lacks its share of flaming, roarin' tracks. The band's sound is quite tight and entertaining (with a little bit more elaboration, the above-mentioned 'Buried Alive In The Blues' could have been a great rocker), and there are songs like 'Move Over' - self-penned at last! - or 'Half Moon' that show us Janis hadn't lost it in the least. But the album is really dominated by sentimental, often sweety love ballads, the number and the likes of which weren't present on any previous LP. Some people seem to take it as a fatalistic sign (like John Alroy whom I mentioned in the introduction), saying that she was really falling into soft rock and turning into an average pop performer. There is a grain of truth in this indeed: while Janis' unique voice and singing style would certainly prevent her from falling into the same bag with your ordinary untalented love balladeers, the overall sound is turning a little banal and conventional. The only ultra-nasty offender on the whole record, to my mind, is the I Got Dem Kozmic Blues rip-off 'My Baby', a grand, quasi-pompous love hymn that would be suitable for the likes of Whitney Houston, but certainly not Janis. But even the more exciting mellow ballads that actually do have fine melodies and are really emotionally resonant ('Trust Me'; 'Cry Baby', with ear-shattering vocal efforts in the chorus with Janis at her very, very, very best) aren't that satisfying in the end. I miss yet another 'Ball And Chain'. Or another 'Summertime'. So what do I console myself with? Well, like I said, there are a couple of terrific rockers, like the screamin', furious 'Move Over' and 'Half Moon'. Again, I don't like them nearly as much as the best stuff on Cheap Thrills, maybe because of the fact that they aren't sloppy and are, on the other hand, quite polished and professional. This is where I start to miss Andrew's and Gurley's guitars, you know. They might have been unprofessional thugs, but in that case Janis was a thug too, you gotta remember that: the greatest thug on earth. And whatever be, that thug is credited as the author of the mighty vocal/guitar melody in 'Move Over', perhaps the most powerful moment on this record. Then there's the ridiculous self-penned 'Mercedes Benz': it was certainly thought of as a silly throwaway, like Cream's 'Mother's Lament' on Disraeli Gears, but unlike Jack Bruce Janis is a damn fine singer, if you haven't guessed it before, and she turns in a performance of a lifetime. And she does it accapella, too - not missing a note in the process and commencing the song with a witty 'like to do a song of great political and social importance', showing us that she still hadn't lost that great sense of irony she always had in her. Finally, the album's big hit and the song you probably all know was 'Me & Bobby McGee', a Kris Kristofferson contribution that certainly suited her much more than him. It's also mellow and slushy, but at least it ain't pathetic - just a good ol' country ballad with a great singing tone. A deserved #1, although I wish the damned public would also appreciate 'Move Over'. Bet it wasn't released as a single, though. Anyway, screw my bitchin' and I still give the record a 9 - it's well-constructed, there's almost no crap except 'My Baby', and, after all, I can't deprive Janis of any points for song material. She wasn't an accomplished songwriter, and we all know that. She did her job well here, and managed to get out another completely adequate and idiosyncratic record with her identity firmly stamped on it (something Kozmic Blues ultimately lacked, what with all the Bee Gees covers and all). Too bad she had to die right there, in the autumn of 1970, and instead of the symbol for a great emotional singer turned into a symbol of Sixties' hair and drugs. Then again, if John Alroy is right, maybe we can tolerate the hair-and-drugs symbolism, leaving it to the romanticists and the uncultured scum, and just respect her as the most raunchy and talent rock female performer on the planet, stripping away the dated social environment stuff. Stop me now, somebody, or I'm gonna turn this into an essay on the Flower Power.
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Year Of Release: 1972
Record rating = 9
Overall rating = 12
Could be better, but then again, where else can you find such a ton of Janis dialog? Eh?Best song: SUMMERTIME
Track listing: 1) Down On Me; 2) Bye Bye Baby; 3) All Is Loneliness; 4) Piece Of My Heart; 5) Road Block; 6) Flower In The Sun; 7) Summertime; 8) Ego Rock; 9) Half Moon; 10) Kozmic Blues; 11) Move Over; 12) Try (Just A Little Bit Harder); 13) Get It While You Can; 14) Ball And Chain.
Well, I guess this is now rendered a bit superfluous due to the Winterland release, you know, which boasts a much better cohesiveness (after all, that one was a complete show recording, while In Concert was merely a rag-bag collection of unconnected performances), but on the other hand, there's not that much real overlap - and after all, this has been the definitive Joplin live collection for more than twenty years. It can also work as one heck of an introduction to Janis as such - in fact, it introduced me to the woman something like fifteen years ago. Of course, I hated it back then, I love it now. My taste has all gone for shit!In any case, this is a great double LP (one CD now) that more or less satisfies its purpose. The first LP is all Janis with Big Brother, about half from classic 1968 performances and the other half from a brief reunion in April 1970; the second LP is all Janis with the Full Tilt Boogie Band, all June and July 1970, i.e. just weeks away from her demise. In this way, you gotta compare the two - and I'm sure some will prefer Big Brother's energy and total dedication to Full Tilt's relative lack of commitment and idle behaviour, while others will take Full Tilt's professionalism and precision over Big Brother's sloppiness any time of day. One thing's for sure - Janis goes out of her way to make an impression with both outfits. She's always the star. If you've already heard the Winterland album, you probably won't be much impressed with stuff like 'Down On Me', 'Piece Of My Heart', or 'Flower In The Sun' because they're performed more or less in the same way (and I may be wrong, but I think the version of 'Bye Bye Baby' on here is exactly the same as on the Winterland album). And the one '68 track you're not bound to find elsewhere, 'Road Block', is easily the worst on this album - it's essentially another one of those clumsy, unfunny novelty songs as 'Easy Rider'. Is it a coincidence that whenever Janis shares the vocal spotlight with other Big Brother members, the result is utter crap? Guess not. What a buncha hideous losers, eh? I do have to admit, though, that this here version of 'Summertime' is easily the best version of the song in existence. It's not like the others suck - I haven't heard one truly 'sucking' version of the song from Janis - but this time, it's like every little turn and twist works perfectly. I simply can't imagine a more impressive delivery, whether it be the vocals or the instruments. Even the distorted guitar solos totally rock, and the closing throat-choking set of 'no no no no nos' is devastating in an almost mathematically precise way. That's pure perfection to me. The first part of the album, however, should be equally notable for (a) a terrific performance of 'All Is Loneliness' - originally a highlight on the band's debut album, but still only a pale shadow of the improvisational beauty on here (okay, I have to retract my previous statement: Big Brother's male members do interact with Janis on here, and it still doesn't prevent the song from ruling. Why does shit happen to me every time I try to make a generalization? Fuck you, art, next time I'm gonna write a review on South African antilopes instead); no fan of Janis can miss the breathtaking falsetto on this song, or how it suddenly erupts into all-out screaming and then settles back; and (b) a classy blues improvisation called 'Ego Rock', performed by Janis as a duet with guest star Nick Gravenites (an obscure Chicago blues performer several of whose songs Janis actually covered herself) - absolutely hilarious as far as improvised barroom blues can go. The second part of the record ain't my favourite, but it still kicks ass. The Full Tilt Boogie performances are the ones where you'll also have Janis seriously interactin' with the audience - lots of monolog that you'll either find grating or seductive, depending on what kind of a shitty guy you are yourself. Me, I find some of it charming (like the passage where she invites everybody to her house in San Francisco to have a drink with her) and some of it a little boring (like the story about the chick on the second floor who was getting it on better than Janis herself), but it only gets seriously annoying once - at the end of 'Ball And Chain', where Janis proves herself stupid enough to interrupt a magnificent performance right in the middle and veer off on a lengthy improvisational, half-chanted, half-spoken preachy rant on typical hippie themes, and actually forgets to return to the song! As for the music, though, it's essentially all great as well. 'Kozmic Blues' isn't a particularly good choice, I'm afraid, but 'Half Moon', 'Move Over', and 'Try' more than make up for it. Where's 'Bobby McGee', goddammit? So I do think this coulda been better, but then again, what couldn't? You still have a double live album of mostly inspired performances, with just one and a half relative stinkers or so, and I'm not even mentioning all the historic importance. One really serious gripe: the photo of Janis on the inside sleeve is goddamn hideous. I guess that also had something to do with me having Janis Joplin nightmares in deep childhood.
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Year Of Release: 1982
Record rating = 8
Overall rating = 11
Outtakes and various scraps. All good, even if a little bit short.Best song: FAREWELL SONG
Track listing: 1) Tell Mama; 2) Magic Of Love; 3) Misery'n; 4) One Night Stand; 5) Harry; 6) Raise Your Hand; 7) Farewell Song; 8) Amazing Grace/Hi Heel Sneakers; 9) Catch Me Daddy.
A more than half-decent cash-in, although its value has been seriously decreased lately since the issue of Live At Winterland, due to the overlapping of several tracks. That said, it's hard to imagine anything like a 'bad cash-in' in Janis' case: her voice will always serve to pull out even the most hopeless cases. Fortunately, there aren't many such cases on this record. It mostly draws from the Big Brother legacy (1967-68), with a few 'oddities' thrown in: one track from the Kozmic Blues Band, one from the Full Tilt Boogie Band, and one even played together with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band! A mixed bag, in short, but I wouldn't want to say that the album flows poorly because of that.The Brother tunes range from decent to outstanding. The only little piece of crap is 'Harry', a 'psychedelic' bunch of feedback noise and chaotic shouting that sounds more like a bad parody on Syd Barrett's Pink Floyd than anything Janis could have a relation to. It was bad enough to have Big Brother playing psychedelic songs; it's far worse when they engage in psychedelic noise. (Proof that you gotta have some great talent to even fart in the studio - everybody can fart, but not everybody can make the particular fart interesting). If Farewell Song was truly a posthumous tribute to Janis' genius, why include this miserable tidbit that only blackens her reputation? Really stupid choice. But then again, thank God, 'Harry' is so short it's really insignificant. Elsewhere, there's a disjointed, almost intentionally off-key (parodic?) version of 'Amazing Grace' that suddenly picks up in the middle and breaks into a short, tight, magnificent cover version of 'Hi-Heel Sneakers' with Janis at her very, very best. Pity she didn't get to sing more of these traditional R'n'B numbers during her career: this one's a real treat. I can only imagine Janis doing something like 'Blue Suede Shoes' or 'Roll Over Beethoven' and blowing both Elvis and Chuck Berry off the scene. 'Misery'n' is a fantastic blues'n'soul number, one of these moody, melancholic numbers that I like so much when white bands get to play them cuz even if they're technically less impressive, they manage to do it with a lot of sincere feeling (Fleetwood Mac did a couple of these in their early days, with similar "wailing", atmospheric guitar stylistics, and it's probably the only brand of early 1968-era Fleetwood Mac that I find to my liking). It's a real shame the song didn't make it onto Cheap Thrills instead something truly inferior like 'Oh Sweet Mary'. Think of it as a softer, but subtler companion to 'Ball And Chain' - it's that good, deeply moving and bringing out the most humane intonations in Janis' singing. The other Big Brother numbers are mostly concert standards, and have therefore been mentioned in my Live At Winterland review ('Magic Of Love' - the version here seems to be superior to me; 'Catch Me Daddy', here presented in a studio version; and, of course, the title track, one of Janis' most powerful performances - she almost leaves you out of breath on the final speeding up section). The title track, in fact, seems to be the same version as used on the Winterland release, which makes it all the more redundant (sadly) or, otherwise, makes redundant all the studio albums and cash-ins (sadly as well). The later tracks aren't that interesting, but they're still worthy in their own way. 'Raise Your Hand', recorded with the Kozmic Blues Band, is the kind of lazy, unmemorable stuff that I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues is so saddled with - but it does pick up steam near the end, and with a little help from your headphones and your volume control switch, can even drive you to ecstasy on a particularly good day. And the Butterfield Blues Band collaboration 'One Night Stand' is even better, just because it's, well, kinda 'organized'. As for the live 'Tell Mama', chronologically the last track on the album (recorded as late as June 1970 with the Full Tilt Boogie Band) but actually the first, it is a great concert staple with enough energy built up to guarantee a good listen. Great driving vocal/instrumental jam that blows to pieces all accusations of Janis 'mellowing out' towards the end of her life. Not that the album adds anything particularly new to the Janis legacy or discloses a previously hidden side (unless you count 'Harry', of course... by the way, listen closely to the banter on Live At Winterland and you'll be shocked to hear that somebody in the band actually proposed to do 'Harry' on stage as an encore number. Ugh. Makes my skin crawl!) It is what it is - "more Janis by all possible means". If you're not a completist or a screamin' diehard, you don't need this album (be sure to invest your dough in Live At Winterland instead). But if you get to see it cheap, don't hesitate: the material will not make you scream, and if you haven't yet heard the galloping 'Catch Me Daddy' or the desperate title track, well, what can I say? A true Janis lover can't live without 'em.
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