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Music Review: Big Brother and the Holding Company Featuring Janis Joplin – Live At The Carousel Ballroom 1968

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Written by General Jabbo

San Francisco 1968. It was the height of the counterculture and home of the Carousel Ballroom. Owsley “Bear” Stanley supplied the legendary sound mixes—and the LSD—and bands such as the Grateful Dead and Jefferson Airplane. And on June 23, 1968, Big Brother and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin provided the soundtrack. Luckily, Bear had the tape running on that June night, the results of which are captured on Big Brother And The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin – Live At The Carousel Ballroom.

Bear’s recording technique was a bit unorthodox, having the vocals and drums on one side and all the other instruments on the other. The idea was to put the speakers close together to create a “sweet spot” and replicate the in-person experience. Bear supervised the mixing of this CD before his passing last year and the results are one of the better sounding recordings of the era, capturing Big Brother in their sloppy, psychedelic glory.

The show opens with an energetic “Combination Of The Two,” a song that manages to mix a Stax R&B sound with long, droning guitar solos from James Gurley. The song is a showcase for his playing, which was a hallmark of the San Francisco sound. The bluesy “I Need A Man To Love” features an inspired Joplin vocal, leaving no doubt what she was looking for. Despite only being 25 at the time, Joplin delivers the song like a blues veteran.

The old standard, “Summertime,” is given the heavy blues treatment here, with Big Brother’s musical performance matching Joplin’s heart-wrenching vocals note for note. It’s a stunning reinterpretation of the track.

Joplin and the band offer a spirited, if sloppy take on her signature song, a cover of Jerry Ragovoy/Bert Berns’ “Piece Of My Heart.” While not quite matching the studio version, Joplin’s vocals and Sam Andrew’s counterpoint vocals are still full of passion. The concert’s high point, though, is an emotional “Ball and Chain.” Joplin gives a jaw-dropping performance in this nine-minute blues workout that would do Robert Plant’s vocals in “Since I’ve Been Loving You” two years later proud.

For sure there are sloppy moments in the show with flat vocals and missed guitar parts, but when the band was locked in, they really delivered and Joplin is great throughout. Big Brother And The Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin – Live At The Carousel Ballroom is worth owning for any Joplin aficionado.

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