Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Big Brother and the Holding Company

  • Big Brother & the Holding Company [Columbia, 1967]  
  • Be a Brother [Columbia, 1970] A-
  • How Hard It Is [Columbia, 1971] C
  • Cheaper Thrills [Made to Last, 1984] B+

Consumer Guide Reviews:

Big Brother & the Holding Company [Columbia, 1967]
Janis Joplin's first band is still dissed for its crude musicianship, and its pre-Columbia album is still patronized for failing to showcase Joplin the blues singer. Only she wasn't a blues singer, she was a rock singer--a rock singer who learned to conceal her country twang after she cut these ten crazee songs. Most are by her bandmates, whose folk-schooled garage-blues licks provide goofy hooks. One that isn't is the definitive Joplin original "Women Is Losers." She sensed what was coming--you know she did. [Rolling Stone: The 40 Essential Albums of 1967]  

Be a Brother [Columbia, 1970]
With the obvious exception, all the original members are here, plus third guitarist David Schallock, good for both a funk-not-feedback feel and occasional psychedelic overload. Nick Gravenites is singer and auteur, and this is his message to the weary, wary, but steadfast hippies of the world--watch out for "heartache people" and "funkie Jim," but "be a brother." Bonus: Sister Janis does a bit of backup. A-

How Hard It Is [Columbia, 1971]
Nick Gravenites did a better job of replacing Janis than anyone could have imagined. Mike Finnegan is no substitute for Gravenites. C

Cheaper Thrills [Made to Last, 1984]
Postpunks should forget Janis Joplin and dig this: just because they practiced in their own $300-a-month Marin commune doesn't mean they weren't a garage band. A classic garage band, in fact, and they played out a lot. That's one reason this low-fi one-night-only live-in-1966 tape overcomes the expected flaws to give forth more raunch than most singles catalogues. Janis Joplin is the other. B+

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