doppel wrote:To quote Mojo Nixon: "George Jones sings so good it'll make your dick hard."
Man, I sure do loves me some Mojo.
JANIS JOPLIN -- I have very mixed feelings about Janis; downright contradictory ones at times. I don't really know how to put my finger on her as a singer much of the time and at this far remove, I think she's as often admired for her legend as for her actual recorded performances. It's telling, for example, that one of the two essays included in the 3CD Columbia/Legacy Janis box set I own -- by feminist rock critic Ellen Willis -- has virtually nothing to say about her music, focusing exclusively on her as some sort of icon, which I think is more of a sad statement about the lack of women allowed to become successful in the late '60s music industry then anything actually having to do with how she lived, let alone how she sang. I mean, the essay attempts to draw a direct line from Janis to Madonna. That's just plain dopey, imho.
There's no doubt Janis was a depressed and troubled soul, who sought to bury her pain in music, so it's no surprise that she turned to the blues for her earliest inspiration/recordings. But while those tracks are hardly embarrassments, they aren't exactly revelatory either, unless, that is, the listener is unfamiliar with the originals from which Joplin drew her inspiration. She's certainly no Ma Rainey or Bessie Smith, but I'm also not sure that criticism is even valid; she's clearing not just emoting, after all -- I don't think there's ever a doubt that Joplin is 100% committed to being expressive -- yet something is missing here.
That problem is somewhat relieved by the time she hooked up with Big Brother And The Holding Company. Once freed from the constrictions of the very specific genre conventions of country blues, she was able to try developing her own distinct style, which ultimately presented its own set of issues given she was just as likely to devolve into caterwauling as she was to come up with interesting phrasing (which she occasionally does) or making someone else's lyrics her own (which she also sometimes does.) But all the criticisms you've probably heard elsewhere about Big Brother are true -- they were amateurish, undisciplined musicians whose shambolic playing failed to provide the kind of structure which might have kept Janis from indulging her worst tendencies (foremost of which is her apparent belief that singing sounds more soulful the more words you can pack into any given space.) Which isn't to say the group doesn't have its moments -- their lack of chops can sometimes be endearing, there are flashes of inspiration here and there, and just like Janis, they're clearly pouring their heart and soul into it. But good? I dunno if I can go that far.
On her final recordings -- those from Pearl, with The Full Tilt Boogie Band -- the problem is exactly the opposite. The band is often too slick and precise for the style of singing she was most comfortable with, which often makes her contributions sound almost intrusive (and it's telling that I hardly miss her on the sole instrumental track, the one cut she hadn't yet recorded vocals for before her death.) The standard line is that her second group -- The Kozmic Blues Band -- was the most ill-suited for her talents and that the horns in particular too often step on/detract attention from her vocals. But if I could have only one proper Janis album, I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama would absolutely be the one I'd choose, perhaps because she's often shunted to the sidelines while the horns lay it on thick. I mean, "As Good As You've Been To The World" is in a solid groove for a full two minutes before her entrance, and right before she does appear, the band quite literally comes to a halt and essentially starts over again.
Yet even with all these criticisms, I still have a soft spot for some of her recordings -- not the least of which being her biggest hit, Kris Kristofferson's "Me And Bobby McGee", where I think it's safe to say her rendition is definitive (and also when her and Full Tilt best melded.) Some of that is undoubtedly because she's been part of my music collection for so long -- I first got into her in middle school when I had not yet heard any of the original versions of many of her songs, virtually all of which I now prefer over hers. I certainly don't pull her records out much these days -- and I think saying I've outgrown her is a fair analysis -- but she definitely led me to better music I love today, which is worthy of praise in and of itself, I think.
And the reason why this is but a single-artist update is that next up is the amazing Louis Jordan, who is one of my all-time faves, and I suspect The Project may stall a bit as I listen to him over and over and over again. So if you need to find me, stop in at "The Saturday Night Fish Fry"