On this Cheap Thrills reissue, there’s plenty of what put the music across in the first place. That same wild energy. It’s in Janis Joplin’s voice and it carries on the band’s music. All of them knew their chops. The structure is free form, and the jam is the ultimate end. With the group behind her, Joplin took the Bay Area sound to the world as something free and idiosyncratic descended upon popular culture. Not everyone dug it, but the hippy symbolism was there for all to see.
Janis sang the blues and it ached. Her life was pain, a woman in a man’s world she could never quite figure into. Having migrated from Texas to San Francisco at the flowering of counterculture and the birth of acid rock, she was one of many untold thousands of women which found that the promises of freedom, individuality and liberation of this new culture were only available on men’s terms. And if great profiles of the artist like writer Ellen Willis’ are to be believed the weight of it all was what ultimately destroyed her. Joplin’s death was untimely but just as readily fodder for the myth of an individual who had already become her culture’s hero.
But the band here is yet to encounter the concerns of drugs or internal drama which would see Janis and Big Brother parting ways shortly after the album’s release. They simply rock. Having delivered their breakout performance at the Monterrey Pop Festival the previous year, these musicians were ready to prove themselves to the world. They do so with what is arguably Joplin’s most potent record. Even the studio outtakes are searing, the Sixties’ myth in action, all the energy and all the soul sprawling across full tilt. Calling out from across time Janis and company are still there to take another little piece of your heart.
Words by Riley Fitzgerald
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