Big Brother And The Holding Company
Columbia / Legacy Records, 1967
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/30/1999
(Editor's Note: This disc was reviewed as part of the Box Of Pearls box set - hence the "Box Set Rating" at the bottom of the page.)
A lot of people probably think that Big Brother And The Holding Company - Janis Joplin's first vehicle to success - only had one album out, and that was Cheap Thrills. Well, sure, it would be easy to make such an assumption, seeing how much attention Cheap Thrills still gets to this day.
So people might be mildly surprised to hear of an earlier album from this group - their 1967 self-titled debut album. Originally released on the Mainstream label, it did have some moderate success on the Billboard charts, but it was eclipsed by the rampant success of Cheap Thrills.
The original ten songs that made up this album highlight Joplin, then in her early twenties, singing with a passion that was rarely heard in someone so young. The gentle opening strains of "Bye, Bye Baby" (complete with two-tracking of her vocals) almost deceive the listener into thinking that things coming from her lungs are always going to be that gentle.
But Joplin kicks things into full shred with tracks like "Call On Me" (a nice, slow blues number), "Women Is Losers" and "Down On Me". This album might not have made Joplin a star (actually, the band's performence at "Monterey Pop" took care of that), but it let people know that she was gunning for the spotlights, and she had the motor set on overdrive.
Granted, there is a bit of '60s spaciness on Big Brother And The Holding Company, but that was to be expected. And listening to it 32 years after it was first released, it actually is interesting to go back and listen to (especially seeing that I wouldn't enter the picture until three years after this album came out). "Light Is Faster Than Sound" brings to mind a few memories of Steppenwolf, especially when the song kicks up the speed. "All Is Loneliness" is a beautiful chant, and is an appropriate way to end the original album.
There's only one moment I could live without on this album: "Easy Rider," with an out-of-tune male vocal drawling the lyrics... ugh! (I'm assuming the vocalist is guitarist James Gurley, who also wrote the song. Corrections on this would be appreciated from the audience.) I don't mind the country-like trippiness of it, and Joplin's background vocals tie things together, but the lead vocal barely tries to stay in tune. (For that matter, I noticed the same thing on the live take on Live At Winterland '68.)
The four additional tracks tacked on to this album are all interesting, though I'll freely admit I don't hear much of a difference between the alternate takes of "Call On Me" and "Bye, Bye Baby" and the ones used on the album. The two non-album singles, "Coo Coo" and "The Last Time," help to bring everything about this album together. (And, I will admit, opening and closing the album with "Bye, Bye Baby" helps to bring everything full circle.)
Big Brother And The Holding Company might not have been the album to bring this band fame and fortune, but that was just around the corner. For now, this was a powerful first roar out of the box, and should be checked out and enjoyed by Joplin fans.