Other formats

    Adobe Portable Document Format file (facsimile images)   TEI XML file   ePub eBook file  


    mail icontwitter iconBlogspot iconrss icon

Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume. 34, Number 10. 1971

Pearl 12 db's

Pearl 12 db's

Life magazine described the deaths of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix as 'a double epitaph of a run-down culture.' All snide references to that magazine's musical authority aside, it is not news that hard rock is fast becoming softer, though the energy is being rechannelled rather than exhausted. I want to compare and discuss here the latest offerings of two very different but nevertheless important interpreters of the blues/rock form: Janis Joplin, surely the greatest female rock singer of the sixties, whose antics also included consuming a quart of whisky onstage and tilling interviews with the greatest number of incomplete words (F**k you too, Newsweek); and Duster Bennett, a young British one man blues band who plays guitar, harmonica, drums and cymbal similtaneously and well.

While the music of both performers has been characteristically exuberant and extrovert, it is now quieter and more thoughtful. Joplin, in particular, has lost a great deal of her frenzy, but the power is still all there it shows up in the long suspended phrases. The inflexions that make her style haven't changed, but how could you disguise a voice so distinctive? This is an older Joplin, wholly in control of the music. The album is quite different, in this respect, from Cheap Thrills: here, the musicians are solely hacking. True, they do break out occasionally, but it's unquestionably her LP.

Duster Bennett works inside the blues idiom, while leaning towards country, but he doesn't bother to torture his voice in an attempt to produce an ethnic noise. His music is therefore described as facetious by some, hut his musicianship and coordination are impeccable. When he played with John Mayall he was sometimes featured as a one man band during performances. Most of the tracks on this album are original, though Ray Charles and Ray Davies wrote one each.

One of his greatest forms uses a harmonica over a walking blues on guitar, as here on Sugar Beet. He also uses rhythmic rock and roll vamping, in I love my baby and I chose to sing the blues. As usual, Bennett introduces a few novelties: Vitamin pills is a walking piano blues with the voice throughan all-treble amp, while Everyday features a harmonium, such as is found in provincial churches, as a backing to a very cool, slow, pensive vocal. Act nice and gentle is a twelve-bar jug band blues and That mean old look is straight novelty stuff from Lonnie Donegan's era. Soft strings accompaniment is used on Woman without love—this ballad style is atypical of Bennett, though it sounds good. However, it could easily be wrecked as a single by Big singers like Puke Manu (apologies to those who didn't see "One in five"). Sweeter than sugar is a B.B. King-style modern blues with organ, bass and guitar backing, and the last track, Hill St. Rag, is a bluegrass dance tune on mandolin. It's good, but there's only a little of it.

It should be pretty obvious by now that there's a wide range of stuff here, some of it unashamedly not blues/rock. This diversity seems to be a symptom of the mellowing of rock, since Janis isn't quite her rowdy, raucous self anymore either. Her album opens with Move over (by Janis), which is routine rock, with Janis' gutsy vocal backed up with good guitar work. The next track, Cry baby along with My baby introduces her as a soul singer. It's a big spiritual sound, with organ and all the trappings (My baby even has a chorus backing). Each of these tracks could quite easily come out on Atlantic or Tamla Motown as a first single for a new soul singer, but nevertheless they're unmistakeable Joplin. Half moon is a jump number and it's cool refreshing music. The musicians have a track to themselves in Buried alive in the blues, which sounds something like The Doors in that it's well-planned music that still exhibits an agreeable spontaneity in its short breaks. Me and Bobby McGee on the second side is followed by Mercedes-Benz, an unaccompanied song, by Janis, 'of great social and political import':

O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends
So, O Lord, won't you buy me a Mercedes-Benz.

O Lord, won't you buy me a colour TV
Darling for dollars is trying to find me
I wait for delivery each day until three
So, O Lord, won't you buy me a colour TV.

O Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town
I'm counting on you Lord, please don't let me down
Prove that you love me, and buy the next round
O Lord, won't you buy me a night on the town.

You won't believe it's Janis at first on Trust Me, but the guts soon shows. The organ backing is superb—it's a tremendous track. Get it while you can is an emotive, retrospective song. It reminds me of 'Every little bit hurts' by The Spencer Davis Group. Possibly it's significant that it's the last track on the album. The record is characterised by the restraint shown by Janis and the extensive use of keyboards, both piano (Richard Bell) and organ (Ken Pearson). Paul Rothchild's production is particularly good. Janis Joplin's style is more personal and introverted than before, but it is not in any way weakened.

Indeed. Don't be put off by the change I've described: remember, all things must pass, though not necessarily away. What else can I say? Listen carefully to each—I think you'll find it worthwhile.