Albums from Bobbie Gentry, Aretha Franklin, Big Brother, Captain Beefheart and the Animals

New Album From Bobbie Gentry

WHEN A newcomer has a first record which sells more than 1 million copies, beware the inevitable follow-up album named after the single. That is a good, safe rule, but Bobbie Gentry has defied it with Ode to Billy Joe (Capitol).

She unleashes a voice which can range from a gritty treatment of ‘Mississippi Delta’ to the smoothly gentle ‘I Saw an Angel Die’ and ‘Papa, Woncha Let Me Go to Town With You?’ not to mention her cracked, emotional delivery of the title song. ‘Sunday Best’ has her sounding like a natural jazz ballad singer.

Miss Gentry wrote nine of the 10 cuts on the album, which generally avoids the temptation to duplicate the sound of her hit single.

Another successful female vocalist (and there are few of them) is Aretha Franklin, who is represented on Aretha Arrives, her second album for Atlantic.

It includes her latest hit single, ‘Baby, I Love You’ and healthy portions of the blues and spiritual sounds from which her vocal style springs. She appropriates two rock songs, ‘Satisfaction’ and ’96 Tears’, in addition to blues standards such as ‘Night Life’, ‘I Wonder’ and ‘Going Down Slow’.

‘Ain’t Nobody Gonna Turn Me Around’ allows her to show her gospel roots while ‘Prove It’ shows her ballad side.

BIG BROTHER and the Holding Company, one of the hottest of the San Francisco groups, sing 10 numbers in their debut LP on the Mainstream label.

The record is disappointing compared to their live appearances. Lead singer Janis Joplin’s voice lacks the raw force it carries in person, tending to sound nasal and artificial.

Best of the songs are ‘Down on Me’, ‘Blindman’, ‘All Is Loneliness’, ‘Call on Me’ and ‘Bye, Bye Baby’, all of which are good but could have been better produced.

CAPTAIN BEEFHEART and His Magic Band, who have been playing and recording locally for a year with only minor success, have changed style for their first album, Safe as Milk (Buddah Records).

From one of the best local pure blues groups, they have evolved into a free-form combo blending blues with novel musical and lyric structures overlaced with weird electronic and vocal effects.

The blues remain, powered by Don van Vliet’s caustic singing, in ‘Grown So Ugly’, ‘Sure ‘Nuff ‘n’ Yes I Do’ and ‘Where There’s a Woman’ but a strange complexity surfaces prominently in songs such as ‘Electricity’, ‘Abba Laba’, ‘Dropout Boogie’, ‘Plastic Factory’ and ‘Autumn’s Child’.

It is an innovative album with few debts, done very well.

Another experimental record, also marking a departure from a predominantly blues style, is a good demonstration of the dangers of novelty: Winds of Change by Eric Burdon and the Animals (MGM).

From the semi-coherent liner notes (presumably written by Burdon) to the wind-blasted echoey narration of the title track to the lyrical inanities (“…one by one perished and died” is the last line of ‘The Black Plague’) to the flower child exploitation of ‘San Francisco Nights’, this is a terrible album insufficiently brightened by a few good numbers.

Burdon’s past success apparently has deluded him into thinking he is a person of many talents, which he is not. Too bad, because he can be a very good singer.

© Pete JohnsonLos Angeles Times, 10 September 1967

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