Janis Joplin – I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama
About writers, the author James Michener once said, “Unless you think you can do better than Tolstoy, we don’t need you.”
I often feel this way about singers. Unless you can do better than Joplin, we don’t need you.
I seat her at the same table as I do Howlin’ Wolf. These were singers who sang as if they might die at any moment. In some respects, that’s actually what happened to them both—they both sang their hearts out virtually to the end of their lives. Sadly, that moment came far too soon for Janis.
I recognize this might seem an odd album to recommend. It doesn’t have Bobby McGhee on it. It’s not live. It’s not “psychedelic.” It’s kind of … tame. In a way.
Somehow, though, that makes it even more powerful for me. On this album, you feel everything she was capable of with that incredible voice of hers, without any of the ragged damage, crumbling decadence, or overwrought, rocked-up showboating. She just straight up sings her ass off.
The music here has received its share of criticism over the years, for being a bit too … sedate? For me, I like it this way. No out-of-tune electric guitar gettin’ in the way (tho oddly enough, Big Brother’s guitarist is on the album). No histrionics from anyone else. No noise. No self-indulgence. Just deep, tight, respectful, slinkin’ soulful arrangements from a tight band with a horn section.
There’s a fine line between raw, and awful. The music here is neither. It just grooves right along, doin’ its thing. And that’s alright with me.
Because right up top of it all, is the mastery of Joplin. All the crackin’ is here. All the rough improvisations, the creakin’, the wailin’, the grunts, groans, screams, and wails. All in perfect, demonic control. Again, she just sings her ass off.
Recommended track to begin with: Work Me, Lord.
There may never be another singer like this again. At least there was one once.