It arrived on a massive wave of anticipation, launched the all-too-brief career of a legendary artist, and was still at the top of the charts when the band broke up. Following on from totally killing it at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, it took Big Brother and the Holding Company (and Columbia Records) the best part of a year to create this, after months of the pressure of putting something on vinyl that would match their hype.
Let’s not mess about – there’s one main reason why this album is stunning, and it’s Janis Joplin. From just getting her vocal mojo rising on opener “Combination of the Two” to really tearing up on “I need a Man to Love”, her voice is visceral, it’s emotional, desperate and it’s spellbinding. Even when the tempo drops and the mood softens, like on a soulful cover of Gershwin’s “Summertime”, she still turns it up to 11 with a jaw-dropping and vocal-chord-tormenting vocal performance.
“Turtle Blues” and “Ball and Chain” are both authentic and quite amazing blues classics, the first acoustic, the second mixing amplified roar of dirty distortion and feedback guitar with some of Janis’s gentler moments.
It wouldn’t be fair to describe this album as entirely a Janis Joplin showpiece. Even if it’s a little rough around the edges, some of the backup (particularly Sam Andrew’s guitar work) is outstanding, and [WARNING: HERESY ALERT] there are a couple points when Joplin overreaches till you’re thinking “Can someone get this woman a Strepsil?”.
But that’s just being picky. Because at the end of the day, here is an album that’s a joy to listen to, evoking warm summer festival afternoons sitting in a field listening to long jam sessions of a Marshall amp being eviscerated. It’s a rock milestone, a blues classic, and a vivid testament to the summer of love. And a damn fine, repeatable listen.