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The real Rockabilly Filly,
This review is from: The Female Elvis: Complete Recordings 1956-60 (Audio CD)
Janis Martin signed for RCA records in 1956 at the ripe old age of 15, two months after Presley had signed for the label in the full glare of publicity. She recorded her first session for them in March that year, three weeks before her sixteenth birthday, and that was the session which produced the professional sounding rockabilly of "Drugstore Rock'n'Roll" and the bluesy country ballad "One more year to go", a performance that I'd reckon the late Patsy Cline would have been proud of. For a variety of reasons including personal problems, Janis recorded very little more of note in her lifetime - she died of cancer in 2007. However in 1995 she appeared on Rosie Flores "Rockabilly Filly" album and was reportedly working with Flores on an album shortly before her death.
Bear Family released this album of her RCA material in 1987. I've already reviewed an alternative compilation of the RCA tracks, the Snapper "Cracker Jack" album which delivers 22 tracks for a bargain price. This one covers exactly the same period, her years with RCA from 1956 to 1960, but gives us a magnificent 30 tracks. In the main the difference between the two is the number of unreleased tracks which Bear Family have seen fit to include and it has to be said that the quality on these tracks is no different to the released material. Janis and her producers - Chet Atkins and Steve Sholes - only produced classy stuff.
For a run down on what tracks came from which sessions please see my review on the other album - Bear Family haven't helped us by not putting the tracks in session order - why can't compilers manage this simple task? Suffice to say that studio sessions switched between Nashville (produced by Atkins) and New York (Steve Sholes). A number of familiar names appear on the sessions particularly those from Nashville. Grady Martin, Hank Garland and Chet himself appear on guitar, Floyd Cramer has the piano stool and Buddy Harman is behind the drum kit.
Quite apart from the fact her music is often evocative of Presley's, which is hardly surprising given the producers and session musicians used, though I'd hasten to add there's no vocal imitation from Janis, the progression of her music shows a distinct similarity to that of Elvis. Country inflected rockabilly to start with, then the addition of more grandiose backings with prominent supporting vocals much like those from the Jordanaires. And the music moving in 1957 to more general pop sounding stuff though still maintaining some relationship to the blues - "Blues Keep Calling", an unreleased track from that year is an excellent example as is "I don`t hurt anymore" from later in the year. Rock'n'roll didn't entirely disappear as exemplified by "Bang Bang" from `58. I have to add that RCA were not unique. This "dumbing down" of rock'n'roll was happening all over the place. Whether this was what the public actually wanted or what the big labels wanted the public to buy we'll probably never know.
As a postscript I would point out that the later Bear Family release on Janis, "Masters & Studio Outtakes", does put all the released tracks in session order then goes on to include the unreleased tracks (which may also be in order - I don't know). The overall number of tracks is the same as on this one and quick comparison suggests that the contents are the same. The price is pretty similar so I guess you pays your money and take your pick.