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Music Review: Janis Martin – The Blanco Sessions

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Janis Martin (1940-2007) proved during the mid-to-late-’50s that she could hang with the big boys. She was a rare female rock and roller in a world dominated by males. Her rockabilly style and on stage antics earned her the label of the female Elvis. Her career came to a halt during 1960 when she got pregnant but she returned during the ’70s and remained active until her death.

Enter Rosie Flores, born 1950. She is a country singer in the rockabilly vein and crossed paths with Martin when she sang on Flores’ album, Rockabilly Filly. That experience led Flores to set the goal of getting Martin into the studio to record an album. It took a decade but during April of 2007, she and her sidekick Bobby Trimble produced 11 tracks by Martin in Blanco, Texas in two days. Several months later Martin was dead from cancer. Those sessions now form Martin’s last musical will and testament. They were released September 18 as The Blanco Sessions.

Janis Martin has always had the perfect rockabilly vice. It is dynamic and just explodes out of the speakers. They kept the sound fairly simple, which keeps the focus on that voice. They also have a nice mix of classic rockabilly songs and newer material from mostly the same genre.

The album begins with the old Ruth Brown rhythm & blues hit, “As Long As I’m Movin.’” Written by Jesse Stone under his pen name of Charles Calhoun, the name he also used to write “Shake, Rattle and Roll,” Martin returned it to its rock roots.

The next two tracks found her in in an all-out rock attack mode. “Wham Bam Jam” and The Blasters “Long White Cadillac” are perfect vehicles for her style and make you realize the tragedy of the fact that she will never perform them live.

“Walk Softly on This Heart of Mine” was originally a Bill Monroe bluegrass tune but Martin modeled her take after the Kentucky Headhunters version. Kelly Willis provided the duet vocals. “Oh Lonesome Me” is a legendary country song that she re-works in a straightforward manner. The two best songs are the Johnny and Dorsey Burnette song, “I Believe What You Say,” also recorded by Ricky Nelson, and the obscure southern beach music tune, “Roll Around Rockin’” with some nice harmonica work by Walter Daniels.

Rockabilly has always occupied a niche in the modern music world but during the ’50s, it was an important element in the development of rock and roll. Janis Martin may have had only brief commercial success but she remains an important figure in the history of American rock music. While she may be gone, she has left behind one last testament to her talent.

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