Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Janis Joplin Versus Tracy Nelson

Originally posted on June 19, 2008

Janis Joplin or Tracy Nelson? In my vinyl treasure hunt of the last several years, I’ve reacquired some records by those two principal divas of the late ‘60s rock world. Of course everyone knows Janis Joplin. She had big hits, was hailed as the new Bessie Smith, etc. Her first album with Big Brother and the Holding Company (Mainstream) (1967?) is rather uneven. They were a less than proficient psychedelic band grafted onto Joplin’s enormous voice and in those days she wasn’t featured on all the numbers. Much of the music sounds dated in a charming way. The band was pretty awful. “Women is Losers” is my favorite cut on the LP because Joplin doesn’t try too hard, a problem I think she increasingly fell into.

Tracy Nelson, on the other hand had (and has) a natural gift that she used with deceptively facile ease. She had a big voice like Joplin, but it flowed with musical nuances Joplin didn’t possess. Nelson started out with the rock band Mother Earth and they mixed a rock approach to r & b with country overtones. Their third album Bring Me Home (Reprise) brings her to the forefront consistently and still sounds great.

Her first two solo albums, self titled (Atlantic) (1972) and Sweet Soul Music (MCA) (1973) have been back on my turntable since I dug them up in a vinyl-only shop I usually frequent when and if I have money. (I don’t now). The first Atlantic album has a killer version of her “Down So Low” that gives you an idea of her enormous talent. “Sweet Soul Music” has a gem of a cut in “Going Back to Tennessee.” I believe she is still active but I don’t know how (can’t always keep up). Listen to her at her best and I believe you’ll see she was the queen of the rock divas back then.

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