'Janis: Little Girl Blue' Soundtrack on Columbia/Legacy Recordings is Bittersweet [REVIEW]

By Mike Greenblatt on Mar 28, 2016 06:23 PM EDT
Janis Joplin Janis Joplin

It is said that by the time Janis Joplin reached fame and fortune, most of her voice had been blown out. The soundtrack to Amy J. Berg's highly anticipated Janis: Little Girl Blue (Columbia/Legacy Recordings) starts out with the pre-fame little girl in question belting out Lead Belly's "Careless Love." She was, after all, a blues singer, first and foremost.

Director and scriptwriter Berg comes highly recommended. Her previous films, Deliver Us From Evil and West Of Memphis, were both hard punches to the solar plexus, so much so that both films stayed in your gut long after they ended. This one will have its U.S. broadcast debut as part of the PBS series American Masters on May 3. Seven years in the making, taken from Joplin's private letters to her family (as read in the film by Cat Power), her onstage ballsiness totally belied her inner vulnerability and that's what made her so heartbreakingly universal.

From "Down On Me" to "Women Is Losers," from covers of Big Mama Thornton's "Ball And Chain" and Erma Franklin's "Piece Of My Heart" (previously unreleased), the material Janis made her own when she led San Francisco's Big Brother & The Holding Company is all etched in our brains. I'll never forget thrilling to how she shoved a cop onstage at The Stanley Theater in Jersey City, New Jersey, on a snowy night when hardly anyone showed up. Those of us who braved the elements all rushed to the front of the reconverted movie theater and the cops did their damndest to get us back to the seats we had tickets for...until Janis intervened. She was ours.

More covers ensue. Kris Kristofferson's "Me And Bobby McGee," the 1935 Rodgers & Hart Broadway chestnut "Little Girl Blue" (from Jumbo), Gershwin's 1935 "Summertime" (from Porgy & Bess), the Etta James 1968 classic "Tell Mama," every aspect of Joplin's all-too-short career is touched on in this 17-track remembrance, etched in time, forever 27.

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TagsJanis Joplin, REVIEW, Amy J. Berg, Lead Belly

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