Big Brother & the Holding Company

Do What You Love

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Big Brother & the Holding Company's two post-Joplin releases, Be a Brother and How Hard It Is, are two of the best recordings by bands picking up the pieces after the losses of their respective comets/focal points. Where the Billion Dollar Babies and Spiders from Mars had to move on without Alice Cooper and David Bowie, respectively, their musical genre didn't lend itself to reconstituted hard rock groups -- look at the sad fate of post-Jeff Lynne ELO or BTO without Randy Bachman. Like Grace Slick, Janis Joplin joined the group in which she rose to fame after it had formed, but as the Jefferson Airplane could reinvent itself for the future as a Starship with or without Slick, Big Brother was never given the chance to continue producing its experimental psychedelic pop. The layoff results in the band's weakest effort ever. Lisa Battle has a strong voice, and is so different from Janis that the band should have developed a new sound for her. It didn't, doing a disservice to this able singer. Battle does a great job on the funky tribute to Joplin that is "Women Is Losers"; it succeeds because it is not a note-for-note copy but a new look at an original Joplin composition. On the other hand, what is the point in trying to recreate "I Need a Man to Love?" You can't possibly top the electric John Simon production from Cheap Thrills, or Live at Winterland '68's power. The production values here are spotty as well. "Take Off" is not nearly as good an opener as "Combination of the Two," and a new interpretation of that would have been more substantial. The high points of this CD are "Save Your Love" (where Battle's voice carefully patterns itself around this slinky blues-pop, despite the low-budget surroundings); the title track; and two very short pieces, "The OK Chorale" and "Back Door Jamb." Both those musical exercises should have been expanded to give Battle the chance to identify herself as Big Brother's current singer. The band, after all, began pre-Janis by creating unorthodox sounds. Here they have abandoned what made them so special, and appear to be imitating their past. Had they continued to release records as Big Brother in the '70s and '80s, there is the possibility they could have developed a following like that which the Grateful Dead nurtured. Kathy McDonald and Nick Gravenites, who both appeared on Be a Brother and How Hard It Is, are the kind of talents who bring out the best these musicians have to offer. Seven or eight albums with that lineup would have created a formidable body of work. Put Lisa Battle into that mix as well, and the possibilities are endless. Do What You Love has no catalog number and no direction -- even more disappointing when you realize these are super-talented journeymen wasting their time.

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