Wednesday, November 6, 2019


Big Brother and the Holding Company’s Cheap Thrills (AM9) is a 60s' powerhouse raw-blues LP. The band, unfairly referred to at times as Janis Joplin and Some Other People, is the go-to album of blues-rock. From R. Crumb's seminal sleeve to Janis Joplin's vocals to the fuzzed out psychedelia of the band, this is the ultimate acid-experience.  The "live" trappings, like those of Sgt. Pepper, are pretense (with the exception of "Ball and Chain," the only purely live experience), but the music has all the fire and spontaneity of a true live recording.  For a band that supposedly had no musical talent beyond their lead singer, they sure did make a beautiful racket. "Summertime" is one of the all-time great rock interpretations of a standard; "I Need a Man to Love" has all the soul and power that Aretha Franklin was bringing to a much different idiom around the same time; "Piece of My Heart" has been tamed through commercial exposure, yet it remains an authentically passionate performance and a high-water mark for 60s radio. Cheap Thrills is the perfect document of its time and place, but also, like Memphis in the '50s or London in '77, an enduring testament to the unleashed power of song.

Pearl (AM8) is Janis Joplin’s lush, posthumously released, last hurrah. Stylish, groovingly soulful, soulfully grooving, an unfinished masterpiece, Pearl was Janis Joplin's biggest-selling studio album (though its sales are eclipsed by her greatest hits). One of the most intrinsic and telling moments on Pearl is, frankly, "nuthin'." Joplin’s annunciation of the word is so flat-out REAL that there is no doubt she spoke from the marrow-bone. "My Baby" is gospel-esque and redemptive; as though her voice is a gateway into another realm. What many don't realize is that Janis wrote much of her best material. "Move Over" is a Janis original that she sang on The Dick Cavett Show just before her infamous high school reunion in Port Arthur. She also performed "Get It While You Can" on the same show, as anthemic as any song she recorded; the line, "We may not be here tomorrow," all too prophetic. The instrumental track of the ironic "Buried Alive in the Blues" is rough for all the obvious reasons due to Janis’s conspicuous absence. (She was scheduled to finish the vocals for this Nick Gravenites tune the day she was found dead of an overdose in her motel room.) The juxtaposition of the uptempo beat of "Buried Alive in the Blues" is at odds with the circumstance, yet a fitting tribute and stark reminder that Janis was truly a force of nature and a highly exuberant, joyous personality, even when missing in action.