Thursday, September 6, 2012

Janis Martin: "The Blanco Sessions" (2012) CD Review

You might not be familiar with the name Janis Martin, but in the 1950s she was dubbed The Female Elvis by RCA (because of her dance moves). Then a marriage and a pregnancy while still a teenager effectively stalled her performing career.  But clearly the music never left her soul, as is obvious from these recordings that she made in 2007 at the age of 67.  All eleven tracks were done in two days. What a great burst of creativity, of energy. Who knows what she would have done next, had she not succumbed to lung cancer several months later. So The Blanco Sessions contains her final recordings.

The music is a wonderful combination of rockabilly, rock 'n' roll, and country.  Her voice is incredibly strong, and gorgeous at times, particularly on a track like "Sweet Dreams." All the songs are covers, and many are from the 1950s. It's interesting that she chose songs from those years that still held a great promise for her.  There are also some more recent songs like "Long White Cadillac," which was written by Dave Alvin and recorded originally by The Blasters in 1983.

Though this is clearly her record, the musicians definitely have room to shine too. Listen to T. Jarrod Bonta on piano on "It'll Be Me"  and "Oh Lonesome Me" for example. There is also some wonderful work on guitar. These musicians create the feel and joy and energy of the time when rock was young.

"As Long As I'm Movin'"

This CD begins with "As Long As I'm Movin'," a seriously fun old rock and roll number. And yeah, Janis is moving, and tearing it up. In this one, she sings, "You've got big strong shoulders built like a trailer truck/Let me run with you, daddy, and maybe I'll change my luck/I've got to watch myself, these boys are getting out of hand/I've got to watch myself, these boys are getting out of hand/They get twelve years old and start acting like a natural man." This song features Jonathan Doyle on tenor sax, and some really good work on guitar by Dave Biller.  This song feels like it was recorded in the 1950s.  It has nothing of a nostalgic feeling about it; it's not trying to recapture anything, but is really living it, and because of that, and because of Janis Martin's voice, it's a joy to listen to.

"As Long As I'm Movin'" was written by Charles E. Calhoun.  Ruth Brown had a hit with it in 1955. Ruth Brown was always an inspiration to Janis Martin, so it's great that this song is included.

"Wild One (Real Wild Child)"

"Wild One (Real Wild Child)" is a song that I've always dug.  It was written by Johnny O'Keefe, Johnny Grenan and Dave Owens, and recorded by Jerry Lee Lewis. It's been covered by a lot of folks, including Joan Jett and Brian Setzer.  Janis Martin's version is totally fun. I completely believe her when she tells us not to cramp her style, that she's a real wild child. Yes, even in her sixties, she was clearly a wild child.  Rosie Flores also provides some good vocals on this one, and there is some wonderful work by Dave Biller on guitar.

"Sweet Dreams"

We all know the song "Sweet Dreams" because of Patsy Cline's wonderful rendition.  Well, Janis Martin's version is absolutely beautiful and fantastic.  This is the track that really shows what she can do vocally.  It is seriously impressive. Listen to what she does with lines like, "I should hate you the whole night through/Instead of having sweet dreams about you" and "Why can't I forget the past, start loving someone new/Instead of having sweet dreams about you."  I love this rendition.

"Sweet Dreams" was written by Don Gibson.

"I Believe What You Say"

"I Believe What You Say" is another fast-paced fun rock and roll number. Ricky Nelson had a hit with it in the late 1950s. And Janis Martin and her band are really on fire with this one.  "I Believe What You Say" was written by Johnny Burnette and Dorsey Burnette.

"Roll Around Rockin'"

Janis Martin sounds so sexy during "Roll Around Rockin,'" especially when she sings the title line. Oh, I believe she could roll my blues away. This one features Walter Daniels on harmonica, and some more nice work on keys by T. Jarrod Bonta. There are also some fun backing vocals. This is a great party tune, written by Billy Scott and Stephen R. Floyd.

"Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine"

Janis Martin concludes The Blanco Sessions with an excellent rendition of "Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine." Her vocals are so wonderful, so smooth, and the addition of Kelly Willis on vocals is perfect (her vocals were added later). Darin Murphy plays harmonica on this track, and Rosie Flores plays rhythm guitar. There is a nice extended instrumental section at the end.

(Maybe it's just me, but if you listen on headphones, there is something weird in the left ear at the 55-second mark - just an odd bit of guitar - unless there is something up with my copy. Let me know what you think.)

"Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine" was written by Bill Monroe and Jack Landers.

CD Track List
  1. As Long As I'm Movin'
  2. Wham Bam Jam
  3. Long White Cadillac
  4. Wild One (Real Wild Child)
  5. It'll Be Me
  6. Sweet Dreams
  7. Find Out What's Happening
  8. I Believe What You Say
  9. Roll Around Rockin'
  10. Oh Lonesome Me
  11. Walk Softly On This Heart Of Mine

Joining Janis Martin on this release are Bobby Trimble on drums and backing vocals, Dave Biller on guitar, Beau Sample on bass and backing vocals, T. Jarrod Bonta on electric piano, Rosie Flores on backing vocals and rhythm guitar, Sarah Brown on electric bass, Jonathan Doyle on tenor sax, Darin Murphy on harmonica, Walter Daniels on harmonica, and Kelly Willis on vocals.

The Blanco Sessions is scheduled to be released on September 18, 2012 through Cow Island Music.

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