Big Brother & the Holding Company

Hold Me: Live in Germany

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No one could reasonably have had any high expectations for Big Brother & the Holding Company at this late date -- shattered in 1968 by the abrupt departure of Janis Joplin, and subsequently crippled by a combination of bad promotion and ill-conceived album projects, the band was (very unfairly) consigned to also-ran status by the dawn of the '70s. And ever since, in various reunion projects and tours, they've been trapped in the same time warp that has pulled in almost every other band locked into an earlier decade's style and sound. But this release is not bad and, in fact, is quite good -- and to answer the first question that most potential listeners would ask, vocalist Sophia Ramos handles the classic repertory extremely well with a far more trained voice than her distant '60s-era predecessor ever had to offer. The three originals on hand, Sam Andrew (guitar), Peter Albin (bass), and especially drummer David Getz, have become a much more precise ensemble, but they can still generate some sparks where they have to, and guitarist Chad Quist fits right in with their classic material, although his playing is a little too busy at times for his own good. The sound here is excellent, incidentally, rich and close and punchy where it has to be, and if the attack on "Down on Me" and "Combination of the Two" isn't exactly frenzied, they still play with a lot more energy than one would expect at this late date, forty-one years after their greatest triumph and one devastating exit. And Ramos picks up any slack the players may leave and turns the performances into something exciting, if not exactly revelatory.

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