Email The Capn Reader Comment Guidelines The Capn's Log: News

Janis Joplin

Ivory Snow Pure East Texas Barbie Beauty Queen

Big Brother and the Holding Company
Winterland '68
Cheap Thrills
I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama
In Concert
Farewell Song

Janis Joplin became elevated to the pantheon of dead rock legends that are so revered, they're downright untouchable.very early following her untimely death at age 27  This is a plane of heaven populated by musicians that never had a chance to sully their image forever with too many lame late 70's and 80's albums released in a vain attempt to keep up with the current ebbs in music trends, and are remembered only for being so goddamn good in the late 50's or late 60's, so much so that to call them anything short of 'legendary' or 'groundbreaking' is paramount to taking a piss on the Alamo.  Janis, it must be admitted, was one of the first white female rock stars to 'lead' a band of male musicians, and then break out on her own for a self-directed solo career, and she most certainly was influential for her ballsy little fist of nails for her hard-drinkin' gypsy liberated blues-mama persona.  But musically, while she galvanized the San Francisco hippie-rock scene and gained a small amount of mainstream fame in her threee short years of recording, her brand of batwing blooze singing probably had a bit of a short sell-by date.  And to the black folks from which she'd taken her sound, her voice was respected but, in the end, she was just another in a long line of white singers who'd stolen every bit of their act from black folks decades past. It's simply hard to imagine Janis' success continuing into the soft-rock early 70's, where she was too abrasive and real for singer-songwriter rock, and the all-together-now hippie hard rock vibe of the late Sixties didn't last until the early 70's, when a female hard rock singer would probably have scared the pill-head zit-faced Kiss fans to death.  It's damn difficult to see where she would've fit in just a few years down the line from the Number 1 hit record status of her posthumous Pearl album, but instead became frozen in time with four good but spotty albums, a handful of maniac live documents, and the generous memory of Janis' jailbreak cackle burned into the memories of anyone who gave a damn.

Janis Joplin came from the East Texas oiltown hellpit of Port Arthur, Texas, where she was a near-legendary high school outcast, lumpy and pockmarked instead of polished and gussied-up, and willing to spout a bit of threatening desegregationist or gender liberation opinion whenever prompted.  With her askew demeanor and plain-Jane looks, she never had many friends, never had dates, and generally had little to no chance of catching a prime Port Arthur husband to which she could latch onto and darn socks and wash dishes for for the rest of her life. She had to find an out, and music was it. She gravitated towards the local hoods, and frequently joined them when they crossed over to Louisiana to hear the blues played at bars that sold beer to anyone tall enough to put change on the counter.  After moving to Austin to try the University of Texas for a year, she became yet another in an endless line of UT 'students' that spend more time on Sixth Street than anywhere near campus, finally stepping up onstage at a local joint to sing some favorite blues standards.  She fell in love with the stage, singing for fellow dropouts and people passed out at the bar, and finally jacked off to San Francisco to take part in the finger- and skin-popping Beat scene.  She sang blues, and shot speed, sang, and shot more speed, sang a bit, then just shot speed.  And shot speed. And then some more speed, topped off with a nice big needleful of Speed for dessert.  Speed speed speed.  She must've had the cleanest apartment in all of the Pacific Coast with all the meth she poured into her veins.  She quickly emaciated herself to near-death status and was thrown back on a bus to Port Arthur where she cleaned up and made one last attempt at turning Family Circle until leaving again, this time for good.  Back in Frisco, she wrapped herself up in the fuzzy, patchouli blanket of '66-era Haight-Asbury and found herself a rock band.

Big Brother and the Holding Company were another one of those groups of former folkies who realized they needed to plug in to get over with anyone under 35 years of age, though unlike the similarly inclined Jerry Garcia or Paul Kantner, pretty much sucked at what they did.  Yup.  I know it's a big news flash, but Big Brother were shit musically when compared with just about anyone else in the scene, including the Joshua Light Show and that guy who used to whistle Dixie while picking through the Dumpster behind the Avalon Ballroom.  I can just imagine their faces when they heard Janis' turbojet pipes, realizing they'd finally found their meal ticket. Big Brother became fixtures in the clubs, hovering between the first tier of the Dead, Quicksilver, and the Airplane and the second tier of , and even gained a level of mainstream success with their second record, the half-live Cheap Thrills that fed from BBHC's star-making breakthrough at the Monterrey Pop Festival (cue Mama Cass mouthing 'Wow!' from the audience, then going and devouring little Brian Jones in a single gulp).  Janis, though, knew that her band was dragging her down and she needed to get herself free, free, free baby! Free from this jive, no-soul acid rock scene and implanted in the middle of a great big honkin', inflexible, ten-ton R&B band with more horns than a freshman frat rush.  She also began to explore her public persona around this time, tweaking Dick Cavett and cackling madly in straight America's face, and it was here that the real Janis legacy was born. She became an idol to lesbians, butt-uglies, dispossessed housewives, Art teachers, and Native American wannabes (often all the same person!) all over America.  The stress, however, was monstrous, and she once again graduated from swilling Southern Comfort to shooting smack in an attempt to wipe clean her painful past and her lonely present.  Still, she was clean and positive when she went to record Pearl in 1970, which marked a conscious shift towards impressing the mainstream.  It all went swimmingly until her sometime lesbian lover shot her up with a hot dose and she packed up her feathers and forever went 'back to Texas', as it were.

Truly, Janis Joplin's music gets to be a bit too real sometimes.  Though she admitted her drunken loudmouth public persona was a big, sad put-on (she was much more intellectual and sensitive in private), it reflected a bit too transparently what was hiding underneath.  Her no-holds-barred full-body performances, both live and on record, were the kinds of self-expression that not too many people (not to mention too many women, if any) have had the guts to show on the rock stage, and for that Janis deserves every shred of praise she gets.  Janis wasn't much of a songwriter (her songs were decent but rudimentary roots rock grooves, for the most part), wasn't too clever with picking her backing bands (I mean, come on, why did she ever consent to sign on to outscream the Kozmic Blues Band, anyway?) , and moreover, never really clicked on record. With only four records total, a Janis greatest hits can be nothing if not a bit thin, and even the reissue maniacs nowadays mostly skip over Joplin to dig out yet another fucking digital remaster of Bark or long-lost Blue Cheer live album, so I wouldn't even say there's much gold for record collectors like myself.  In the end, there's ample evidence that Janis should be remembered fondly, and her performances studied and dissected, but there's just not enough of a track record to say that Janis was the best-ever-this or the one-and-only that. She was just a Texas debutante dropout who laid it all down and paid her price for it.

Big Brother and the Holding Company - Columbia 1967

I'll say it right now - though I'm a huge Grateful Dead fan (for which I have little explanation and no apologies) and enjoy some acid rock groups and albums a helluva lot (Baxter's, Volunteers, some QMS, Moby Grape), and generally love psychedelic music, there are an endless list of San Fran groups that I feel were simply not much good at all. It seemed like sometime in 1966, every shifty-eyed folkie with a beard and the chords to 'Puff the Magic Dragon' memorized started gobbling Owsley acid tabs and jamming until the plaster came off the walls, and Big Brother and the Holding Company were one of those. These folks know little about blues (probably get all their blues training from old Kingston Trio albums) and about as much about constructing a solo passage as Hillary Duff knows about composing chamber music. But they nevertheless  insist on trying their hand at being the Grateful Messenger Airplane and stinging us with chihuahua-octave guitar solos and 'mindbending' lyrics, even when they've got one of the best female blues singers ever fronting their group. Sheeit, on the few occasions when the Holding Company swallows its pride here and remains a backing band ('Call On Me', 'Bye Bye Baby', 'Down On Me'), they're barely passable, but when they 'experiment', this is ungodly. This album, at its core, is not a Janis Joplin record. It's a BBHC record 'featuring Janis Joplin'.  She doesn't even sing on some tracks, and when she does she has to share space with the clueless garbled babbling of Sam Andrew, a guy who makes that asshole from Blue Cheer sound like Sam Cooke in comparison, not to mention outsinging all kinds of sausage-fingered 'acid' soloing that's constantly poisoning the well. 

The worst moment of all is when they ask Janis to coo like Sandy Denny or something on the tuneless bullshit five-penny psychedelia of 'Faster Than Sound'.  Listen, you're asking Janis to sing this crap? And you don't feel at all guilty about wasting your opportunity to play the best goddamn straight blues or country songs you've ever heard? I guess attempting to fault a former folkie burnout for poor decisionmaking is like asking a Republican to feed the poor...don't get all disappointed when they take the collection basket and give it to Boeing with apologies for not getting it there quicker. 

So in case you can't guess, the songwriting is terrible, some of the most incompetent attempts at humor, weirdness, and originality since the last 98 Degrees album came out.  When Big Brother try to be acid-witty, like on 'Caterpillar', they sound kindergarten ('I'm a caterpillar! Crawling for your love!...I'm an abominable snowman! Calling for your love!'), and when they get all druggy and acid they sound like a high school guidance counsellor freaking out after some hoods dropped some tabs in his coffee. Check this chuckle-worthy couplet from 'Faster Than Sound':

What goes up must go down
World goes around
Sun shines around
Faster than sound.

Uh oh, Allen Ginsburg, you better pack up your pen, 'cos there's a new boss in town now! And if hearing Janis sing lyrics like these is offensive, hearing the Big Brother dude try it out should be banned by the Geneva Convention as cruel and unusual for living things. Pretty much all of the band-written tunes are losers except for 'Call on Me', a fairly standard R&B number that successfully rips from every Atlantic Records artist ever that wins because it plays the game. Even Janis tries her hand on a few, and they're formulaic. Let me remind you, however, that when your buddies are coughing up winners like 'Easy Rider', formulaic sounds golden. I'll take an 'Intruder' or a 'Women Is Losers' when faced with a choice anyday.  And I guess I am faced with a's called the '>> button', and I'd like to thank Buddha for it right now.

Anyway, like I said, attempting to focus on this album musically or lyrically can be damned painful, but listening to the burgeoning Janis almost makes it all better.  She's still tentative and though her pipes are in evidence, if you come from this album by way of any of her other records (and I don't know how you couldn't, considering I've seen this record on the average record store shelf, like, twice) her lack of vocal napalm can be shocking.  But Janis is still Janis, and she's still a revelation.  She's the only genuine thing within a thousand lifetimes of this phony-ass 'rock band', and when she let's fly in that eyes-rolled-back foot-stompin' way she does, it's infectious like pink eye.  And you know what? There's something not even Big Brother can screw up every single time out of the bag, and that's cover versions of old trad songs. (Okay, so 'All Is Loneliness' is a damned good shot at fucking up a good blues song, and Big Brother is, sadly, up to the task).  'Down On Me' and 'Bye Bye Baby' are both great songs no matter who's on guitar and drums, 'Down' being a big, grooving stomper and 'Bye Bye Baby' a swinging country gem that sounds half Patsy Cline and half Big Mama Thornton.  Of course, hearing Janis rip the earth's crust wide open while singing 'Down on Me' live will make this version seem timid, and that's no small knock against this album altogether.  When the best material here is available better elsewhere, and the worst material is currently under investigation by the SPCA as cruel and unusual punishment for that time I left my copy of this album playing while my old cat was trying to fall asleep, there's not much left to recommend Big Brother and the Holding Company.

 Capn's Final Word: The tentative first steps of a young, talented blues singer and her band of merry retards.

 Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment Form

Bill Grote     Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: Excellent review! Funny but true

Live At Winterland 1968 - Columbia 1998

A 14-track double live album from the pre-Cheap Thrills era from which live tracks for that album were also culled, Winterland '68 is surprisingly resilient.  Listen, Janis Joplin's voice is 100% reliable.  If you like it, her skittity bop 'chatter' sections, her cattail-stomp wails, her wide-vibrato fadeouts, she's always ready to please on this one.  Like Hendrix, she was electrifying no matter who was backing her up (she made mincemeat of a duet she did with Tom Jones one time, pummelling that turnip-trousered little Welse fag into the dust though she was singing over his wussy house band).  In fact she's so consistently great I can't tell which of her performances, on here or on the live material on Cheap Thrills, I like better.  For all her ball-out wailing and sense of abandon, she never really overdoes it.  Or, rather, if she is overdoing it, she's simply too exciting and the songs too compact to let it sink in. This is all great and wonderful because if Janis is just as great as ever, Big Brother are just as lame as they were on the original records. They murderize the intro to 'Piece of My Heart' but play 'Summertime' just short, they're just as maddeningly inconsistent as ever. In fact, I'd go so far to say that, outside of a few improvements on BBHC songs ('Bye Bye Baby', 'Down On Me') that benefit from the sweat and blood of a live performance, these versions are pretty much exactly as good as their counterparts.  And as you know, I simply can't go any higher than a B+ for a live record that doesn't significantly offer something different or better than the studio albums from which its songs are taken. Plus, how excited can I be about getting another version of such timeless classics as 'Easy Rider' (Featuring a 'bawdy' lyric rewrite and a bass solo. Holy frijoles, do I even need to tell you it's awful?) or 'Light Is Faster Than Sound', both of which fall on my spectra of good music somewhere south of Starship yet quite possibly higher than Bananarama. I'm also not too keen on 'Magic of Love' or 'Catch Me Daddy', both substandard filler tunes left off of Cheap Thrills, though Janis is darned captivating on 'Farewell Song' no matter how tin-eared the Holding Company seems to be. The fuzz solo on this song is just dreadful. This band got plenty of flak back in the day, enough to make Janis take a hike not long after Cheap Thrills, and for all their infrequent bursts of inspired mediocrity, the rock press was absolutely justified in their pounding.  Even though they practiced all day every day to improve themselves, they just didn't have the common good taste that is in such short supply among the rock and roll world.  Bummer, because Janis deserved better.

Capn's Final Word: Live at Winterland '68 is probably as good as any compilation of the Big Brother years could hope to be, and it's as representative and truthful as anyone could stand.  Janis is stunning, Big Brother is cavalier, and there ain't a singer in the house that could top her at her peak.

 Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment Form

Cheap Thrills - Columbia 1968

That ever-so-San-Francisco of all things, the live hybrid, Cheap Thrills shows a quantum leap for Janis Joplin from a tenuous little girl with a big voice to that of a riveting frontwoman with full command of her powers and Big Brother and the Holding Company from a bunch of folky acid rockers who can't play their instruments to a bunch of folky acid rockers who can't play their instruments but keep their fucking mouths shut (well, almost). It must've been hard for the boys, being that they are without a doubt, the talent behind the band, especially the drummer, who sounds like he plays with only a highly amplified high hat, three peach crates, and a broken little red wagon.  The guitar players are just as clueless as on Big Brother and the Holding Company, only louder and much more distorted, which has the trade-off effect of making their ineptitude somewhat hidden by all the fuzz and noise, but yet presenting their idiocy with such loudness that if you had to guess, you'd still say the two guitar players share about three fingers between them. Aw, maybe I'm being a bit hard considering that this album does sound so much better than the debut, but come on....there hasn't been this bad of a supporting cast displayed since Jenna Jameson Senior PGA Golf Tour Gangbang.

Again, the less you hear of what the Holding Company has to say, the better this album comes off. The screeching, John-Lee-Hooker-stuck-in-a-threshing-machine wonk of the intro to 'Ball and Chain' may bring up bad memories of root canals gone by, but Janis's insistent, pleading tear through the lyrics is memorable and moving.  Oddly, though, these songs are primarily Big Brother compositions, and a surprising number of them work.  Janis never had a better advertisement for her voice and particular brand of music than 'Piece of My Heart', a lurching rock classic that manages to be both controlled and unhinged, butt-ugly and delicate, dramatic and true-to-life all at the same time.  Shockingly, the Holding Company hold their own with a firey little performance of their own  Face it, sometimes the Company's very real incompetence simply works in their favor - the song wouldn't be worth as much without the cheesy razor guitar sting after 'Take It!!' and the garbled-but-perfect background vocals. I have even fewer snipes to take at the flittery cover of Gershwin's 'Summertime', which may just be Janis's very best vocal showcase of her career. The guitars here are gentle and understated and the rhythm section expressive, and of course Janis distills pure Delta mud right from her hear her fade into moan on the 'don't you cry' line is to hear real life pain right fucking now. It's amazing work.

With just seven tracks on the original record, Cheap Thrills does its damnedest to cover the spread....they can play it genuine ('Summertime', 'Ball and Chain') but they also, unfortunately, play it safe with the ever-so-formulaic South Side  'Turtle Blues'.  Needless to say, Janis turns it from formula into something special with her performance, and the line 'I'm gonna take good care of Janis' is a true kicker hook.  Janis is just about all you get on the messy live soul rockers 'Combination of the Two'  and 'I Need A Man To Love', neither of which acquit the Holding Company very well. Finally, do I need to say that 'Oh Sweet Mary', a speedy hippie powwow boogie featuring Janis only on background vocals, is damn near useless? Janis is the star, and the less Janis you get, the more you wish you were listening to somebody else.

I've also got four bonus tracks on my copy of this album, none of which are worth much to me, but at least make the album a nice 11 tracks instead of a rather skimpy 7.  Seven tracks? What is this, anyway, a Black Sabbath record?  'Roadblock' is a hillbilly rave-up with little to recommend it since Janis mostly says 'Ro-blah! Ro-blah!' in this clipped little voice before a drum solo breaks out, 'Flower In The Sun' is a lighter 'I Need A Man To Love', 'Catch Me Daddy' is breakneck speed on a bum groove, though Janis shines, and 'Magic Of Love' proves it - Big Brother and the Holding Company has as much business doing background vocals as Dick Cheney has running on the US Olympic marathon team.

Considering that the worst tracks on here still beat out most of the debut, and there are three of Janis's best songs right in a row, I'd have to say Cheap Thrills is prime Janis.  Even the lesser songs feature her at her very strongest, before the bummers took over and she realized that 27 would be harder to pass than she thought.  Besides, she's still rawer than a Nigerian punt returner, and when Janis is raw she's fun. Chances are taken, villages burned, prisoners executed, and hearts busted wide open in the middle of the highway.

Capn's Final Word: And anyway, don't we want to support truth in advertising?

 Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment Form

Steve Knowlton     Your Rating: B
Any Short Comments?: "Summertime" is actually a Gershwin tune.  Otherwise, you've nailed this record.

 (Capn's Response: Hey, Steve Know-it-all-lton, what are you doing slumming it here? You know, the Bonanza's like airplane glue. If you hang around too long, I fear soon you'll be droolin, too!)

David Milford   Your Rating: A
Any Short Comments?: I am exasperated with your carping about this band.  If you don't like San Fran psychedelia why are you reviewing it?  The guitar playing on the opening track, on 'Summertime' and on 'Ball and Chain' made my blood curdle when I was a little kid in 1970 and does so still.  It holds up remarkably well to the passage of time: how many bands, now or at any time, play with such PASSION? The classic rock that I still love (of all periods) is not measured by standards of slick professionalism that seem to lie behind your self-congratulatory snarking. They were a great band, and well aware that they were 'primitives'.  I recommend the video '400 Nights'.

(Capn's Response: You're speaking to someone who owns over a thousand Grateful Dead recordings, so maybe you should check yourself about who likes San Francisco acid rock and who doesn't.)

Any Short Comments?: I haven't actually heard this, so erase that rating, but that is one of the most vitriolic and one of the funniest reviews you've ever done. Just how falling-down drunk were you when you wrote it? It's genius.


I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama - Columbia 1969.

I'm supposed to bash the shit outta this shit because the fucking Kozmic Blues Band was so loud and ponderous that it did what two years in the psychedelic scrapheap of Big Brother was unable to do - squash Janis under its weight.  And let's face it, Janis does sound different fronting a big, frothy semi-funky lite soul orchestra than a messy rock band.  She tries to pass herself off as a gin-soaked sequined blues mama ala Aretha Franklin on a bender, and attempts to control her holler and pay more attention to her vocal timbre, and you know? I think she's mostly successful.  I like Janis doing good ol' soul singing, because I like Janis, I like soul, put the two together and you've got something I can definitely sped thirty-five minutes on between forcing myself to listen to the newest Sonic Youth album all the way through and finding out what the hell Die Krupps sound like. Now, you do have to realize that while Janis's approach has been professionalized, her essence still seems to be in force.  Hell, it's not as if she's crooning 'Three Coins in the Fountain' here...these are primarily raw blues and soul songs that this girl was made to sing, and I for one am good and grateful no one's trying to make her sing psychedelic horse manure like 'Light Is Faster Than Sound' anymore.

Nah.  Janis falls victim to a humongous beast of uninspired musicality, the Kozmic Blues Band, a white-boy record-label's idea of a funk band, boasting near infinite membership if a listen to I Got Dem Ol' should be taken as any guide.  There's trumpets. Saxes. Organs. Percussion. Guitars. And when I use the plural, I mean plural.  Goddamn armies of the sonsabitches. This band is so overblown they make soul house bands like Motown's and Stax/Volt's sound like the Ramones.  It's obvious they based this band on the recently successful Blood, Sweat, and Tears considering all the horns and whatnot, but BST didn't get this soft around the middle until at least 1970. This band is simply not imaginative enough to be anything other than ornate coffeeshop wallpaper, a group of faceless random dudes (oh, and Sam Andrew, BBHC guitarist, but you'll never know it's really him) who sit up when told to make a soul noise here, but couldn't properly spell 'improv' if you spotted him the 'j' and the 'm'.

But you know Janis, right? Give her great material and she'll overcome whatever lame-butt backing band you throw her in front of.  Just listen to Cheap Thrills...without Janis that album would be Strawberry Alarm Clock Write Songs From A Girl's Point of View. But Kozmic Blues ain't got great material, it's got passable material, with only the opening groover 'Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)' and the cover of the Bee Gee's falsetto classic 'You Don't Know What It's Like' really feeling like Janis-worthy stuff. Otherwise, what? A bunch of generic, Elvis-In-Vegas-y tearjerkers like the endless 'Work Me, Lord'.  They pull off a passable blues with 'One Good Man', which is also the only song in which the Kozmics sound, you know, controlled. Everywhere else they choke the life out of the ballads ('Maybe'), make the rockers sound like the Doc Severnson Orchestra (the inexplicable extended instrumental section in 'As Good As You've Been To This World') and generally clog up the ol' arteries best left to Miss Pearl herself.  Even 'You Don't Know What It's Like' is a bit too blunt compared to the irresistibly flaky, fragile original with all those falsetto Gibbs barely tweaking out the notes. Here, well, it's just a pretty good soul song.  All the edges are gone, man!

This album is almost a case study in giving the right person too much 'help' by their record label.  I'm sure Janis wanted to make an album just like her soul and blues idols, just polished and competent enough to make the rock press stop lambasting her for sticking with the goons in Big Brother for so long, but the record label went and tried to make her into a female Tom Jones or something. The clearest example of all is the bonus track of a Kozmic Blues-era live version of 'Piece of My Heart', all sped up to frig, criminally substituting horn blasts for that marvelous guitar sting. 'Piece' is one of Janis's best moments, but this version sure wouldn't tell you that. Still, because of Janis's endless reserves of real soul, and the fact that I still think this album is darned listenable for what it is, I'll give this record a low B grade for sheer listenability alone.  But just realize that the magic train just didn't stop at the Kozmic Station.

Capn's Final Word: Obese soul kept afloat only by Janis. 

Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment Form

Pearl - Columbia 1970

Pearl is Janis's nearly complete final studio album, 90% finished at the time of her death and later the most impressive seller of her career, and probably the most accessible of her four albums. It's also her most normal and least 'Janis' album, making it a great way to get your feet wet in the girl (fucking get that vision from thine eyes now!) but maybe not the place to go for the ultimate in Joplinesque experiences.This album shows Janis continuing to grow up from her Holding Company days, morphing from an Acid Queen to a sort of Carole King/Elton John/Dr. John hybrid, trying her capable hands at country rock, slick California whitey R&B, countryish balladeering that almost sounds like Dolly Parton, and a truly shocking hidden scat porn video that comes up whenever I listen to this album and go to  Just foolin'. She really doesn't sound much like Dolly Parton, because while The Queen of Urban Country came from the Blue Ridge Mountains, I hear Janis liked to spend time in the Nappy Dugout.  Odd.

Anyway, Pearl is good, but like Mormons, it's almost too normal. Janis finally finds a backing band with a halfway decent sense of taste, this time the Fill Tilt Boogie Band, a smallish-band of nobodies who fail to even once step all over Janis.  I'm sure she didn't know what to do with that bit of strange behavior, fully expecting Barbarian fuzzface guitars to start ripping out all over the chorus to 'Cry Baby' or cray-zee Sousa marching horns to completely drown out the sweet Hammond organ on 'A Woman Left Lonely'. Jeez, if I were her, wild and weary from being pummeled mercilessly by my backing band, I'd freak out and shoot some smack, too, wondering just what the hell my band was doing, listening to me like that.

Wait.  Was that in bad taste? I'm sure it was, intimating that Janis Joplin accidentally offed herself out of finally getting a band that didn't suck balls and all. When in actuality she was sick and tired of munching carpet and just wanted Bob Weir to ask her out on a goddamn date already. Any more waiting around and she'd have had to date one of the Full Tilt boys, and we all know what fags those assholes were, playing all quiet and tasteful and shit.

Okay, whatever. It's late in the day and I'm goddamn tired of listening to Pearl over and over again trying to wrap up my incoherent, repetitive review, so I'll just name a few songs and close the book on CapnMarvel's for the day.  Probably the biggest hits on this here $8 Frisbee disc are the #1 boffo hit bonanzo cover of 'Me and Bobby McGee', best known for being penned by the one guy on the planet (Kris Kristofferson) who should never be allowed to sing his own material (also Kris Kristofferson), unless, that is, he's singing it to Barbara Streisand (who is, allegedly, Kris Krisofferson, but with a donkey-sized penis. Not a penis the size of a donkey's, but a penis the size of a donkey. I hear she has to store it in her nasal passages.), just so we can watch her attempt to fight off the nausea right there on the big screen. Anyhow, we also have Janis's sweet little a-capella croakfest 'Mercedes Benz', which took the real Mercedes Benz company almost 40 years to gather enough sack to use in an advertisement for its cars. Otherwise, there's a whole host of good, serviceable Janis-type tunes, and a few others that strike me as slightly out of character but are still juicy fruit to this boring, longwinded web reviewer (John Allroy!). As mentioned before, 'A Woman Left Lonely' approaches Nashville weeper status, and shows Janis at some of her least noisily uncontrolled.  Hell, this is so mannered it might as well be Carole King after a half pack of Kools, but I still dig it.  Subtlety is just alright with me, I don't care what they may say. I also enjoy the closing 'Get It While You Can', which sounds mighty formulaic in a Janis sort of way but still delivers the goods, especially the way she sings the line 'Even your own bro-ah-thah!', which tickles me like Elmo and makes me overrate myself like Emo and jack off to pictures of Asian girls peeing like Eno. The rest, hell, it's all much lower-key, so I may like the shit out of it or find it boring as all hell after listening to it no less than a dozen times in the same afternoon, you be the judge.  I know I can sure do without the unfinished (read: Janis called in dead for the vocal session) version of 'Buried Alive In The Blues', symbol of Janis's early exit or no, and t need those gosh darned live bonus tracks at the end like I need Ed Asner to cleanse his anus with my toothbrush.

Thank you, thank you.  That was my review of Pearl, which I'm sure will comprise 90% of the soundtracks of the two horrifyingly conceived new Janis docu-dramas slated for production, one featuring fellow bull-dyke lesbian fist-rammer Pink, a person with less singing ability than a slab of vinyl siding, and who would have made a much better fit in a biopic for Divine, and one featuring the stomach-turningly fish-faced Renee Zellwiger, previously only notable for looking like someone repeatedly punches her in both eyes on a daily basis. Whatever...since we already have Melissa fucking Etheridge copying every last goddamn move Janis ever made, who needs overpaid actresses to do the same goddamn thing.

Capn's Final Word: Janis is dead and I'm not feeling so good myself.  But Pearl might just ease me on down nicely.

Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment Form

In Concert - Columbia 1972

Considering she released only four albums, it seems like every time I turn around I'm listening to more live Janis Joplin music.  Did she hate the studio or what? I guess if you really think about it, In Concert was only the second taste of live Janis most people got a chance to buy (after Cheap Thrills, of course), long before the torrent of bonus tracks, Farewell Songs, and Winterlands began to fall on our heads for real. As a 1972 live compilation album, In Concert was a pretty good idea - a record of prime Big Brother from 1968 (and a short bit from a 1970 reunion dealy-bop) and another from the 1970 Full Tilt Boogie era. It's got all of her great hits outside 'Me and Bobby McGee', which probably hadn't been written yet when these performances were recorded, a smattering of second-rate tunes to keep it interesting for people who already owned Greatest Hits (a version of 'All Is Loneliness' and the rare 'Roadblock', both of which irritate my innards actively), and quite possibly the best version of 'Summertime' I've ever heard.  There's also something called 'Ego Rock', about getting the hell out of Texas (something I myself have considered many a time), performed with obscure blues dude Nick Gravinites, who Janis covered once or twice.  It's nice, with some respectable lead guitar work (by Andrews, I'm assuming), and I don't much mind the snap-crackle-pop, reclaimed-from-bootleg-LP sound of it either.

 However, in this post-Winterland world of ours, you should already have damn near half this album in all-but-identical form.  That Janis did her best live work with the Holding Company is no secret, but her band was so insecure, unimaginative, and over-rehearsed, one version of 'Bye Bye Baby' or 'Down On Me' is just about 99 44/100% the same as another.  And, oddly, so is Janis.  She's not performing guitar solo jams here, she's expressing lyrics, and to try to pick apart different versions of the same song looking for differences is sort of like dissecting McDonald's hamburgers - they've all got the pickle and the ketchup...what, are you gonna count the onion pieces? I suppose Janis freaks will be sure not to miss her in-song banter, pretty revealing at times ('I ain't got no girlfriends...I ain't got no boyfriends...I ain't got no any kinda friends, man.' - 'All Is Loneliness') and never irritating, but I'll save my Disc 1 money for drugs and whores, if that's okay with you.

The second half, with Full Tilt, is cheesier, slicker, and more Vegas, but it's still pretty good and shows some latter-day songs had the same live potential that her earlier work did.  If you're looking for a reason to buy the album here, I say that while you may be tempted by the charged, boogie-til-you-puke versions of 'Half Moon' or 'Move Over' or the torchy 'Kozmic Blues' and 'Get It While You Can', but I was disappointed by the rushed 'Try', which wrings out all the soul in a mass of bashing, and I prefer 'Ball and Chain' in the Winterland version - I always thought the extended 'one man, for one night' monologue/sermon at the end of this version killed the song itself dead, though fans might see this as essential Janis.

I guess if for some reason you get this one instead of Winterland, you're not going to self-immolate into a little pile of ashes and melted fillings or anything, but I simply feel this ol' dog's been substantially improved upon by the more recent, more cohesive issue. And either of these records is preferable to the live tracks on the regular albums, so if you feel you deserve at least one live Janis release, and you probably should feel that way, go ahead and score this if Winterland is closed.

Capn's Final Word: Janis live is probably always at least a certain level of good.

Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment Form

Farewell Song - Columbia 1983

If there's one thing I feel has really improved in the last decade or so, and I mean really gotten significantly better, it's really sloppy, noisy blow jobs in the back row of dollar movie theaters.  Oh, wait, and cash-in reissue albums! I mean, Live At Winterland not only gave you just about all the live Big Brother you'd ever need, wiping out much need for Cheap Thrills or most of In Concert in the process,  it also pretty much made buying the debut redundant, and even killed off damn near all of Farewell Song. Sheeit, it's pretty much all you need other than Pearl, and maybe Kozmic if you're daring, all wrapped up in one little two-disc package.  It's two complete live sets, presented just as if you'd gone to the Fillmore and stayed the whole evening with your flea-ridden pals, drinking wine and discussing how they get toothpaste into the tube. Plus, there's that cool psychedelic writing on the cover so you won't forget you're supposed to take drugs and forget to go to work while listening to it.  Well, Farewell Song isn't that kind of cool, late-90's all-care-taken sort of reissue.  This is the cheapo early-80's model, the one that came out with scant liner notes and, optionally, a dust jacket. Open it up and you'll realize you've got a menagerie of leftovers and TV dinners and other various refrigerator detritus, from a horrifically out-of-tune croak through 'Amazing Grace' with Big Brother to some live versions of tracks you know you already have if you've been paying any attention at all to your bonus tracks - stuff like the meltdown 'Tell Mama' and the idiotic Jefferson Airplane impression 'Magic Of Love', both of which ended up on the reissue of Cheap Thrills.  There's a sense of absolute un-necessity about this record, even on the tracks I feel were worth digging out.  Those number somewhat low, but they're good ones - 'Misery'n' has a classic Joplin blues vocal, and the gospel-y live Kozmic Blues-era 'Raise Your Hand' sure isn't any worse than anything else on that particular album.  Finally, after the (intentionally) disgraceful 'Amazing Grace', the Holding Company tear through a short, fanatic 'High Heel Sneakers'.  The contrast is like night and day, or maybe night and twilight - her old band could truly go from truly horrible to barely competent at the flip of a switch! When you pay for second rate, with Big Brother and the Holding Company, you get second rate!

There's also the worst single minute in Janis Joplin's short, sweet life: the bone-destroyingly awful Big Brother screamfest 'Harry', obviously trying to invoke Zappa again.  I'm not gonna say that they fail at recreating the Mothers' own scream-and-pound song snippets, because, exactly do you fail at this stuff at all? My two year old can make music 10 times that melodic with her little keyboard, and she's more concerned about how many raisins are in her Cheerios than how many minds she can blow or records she can sell. Anyway, it's a pox on Janis's memory, and probably could've been jettisoned for another live cover or something, but what do I know about sequencing 33 minute long ripoff cash-cow reissue albums? I do know I'd rather hear a recording of Janis singing her grocery list that ever be subjected to more of the Holding Company's 'mind expanding' psychedelia ever again.

Anyway, there's really more decent material than true shit on this record, but my total enjoyment is somewhat tempered by the insanely short running time and two major roadblocks ('Harry' and 'Amazing Grace') that always break my happy stride.  Anyway, considering how much of this stuff is available on albums you probably should own anyway (Cheap Thrills and Pearl), the value of Farewell Song is simply high enough to justify purchase if you're not Captain Insano Janis Joplin Fan.

Capn's Final Word: A hodgepodge leftover collection that shows how bad Janis could get when her collaborators forced their opinions, and how good she could be when they left her alone.

Click Here to Fill Out the Handy Dandy Reader Comment Form

Back to the Index