Janis Martin: The Blanco Sessions

Martin proves that she, a 65-plus-year-old from the past, can still rock and roll better than most others of any age.

Janet Marin

The Blanco Sessions

Label: Cow Island Music
US Release Date: 2012-09-18
UK Release Date: Import

Janis Martin was an early rockabilly filly who kicked out the jams as a teenager in the mid-'50s. RCA billed her as “the female Elvis” (remember, Presley was also on RCA) and her first single “Will You, Willyum” / “Drugstore Rock ‘n’ Roll” sold over 750,000 copies. The gritty girl appeared on the Grand Ole Opry, American Bandstand, and The Tonight Show. Billboard named her “Most Promising Female Vocalist for 1956". The Virginia teenager seemed headed straight to stardom.

However, Martin secretly got married before signing with RCA and had a baby just a few years afterwards. RCA dropped the teen mom from her contract and not long after Martin stopped recording. She made a local comeback in Danville, Virginia during the late '70s and started playing locally as well as the occasional festival gig. This disc, recorded in 2007, was meant to herald her return.

Unfortunately, Martin learned that she had cancer a few months after she recorded this music. She died four months after the initial diagnosis. As album co-producer and project igniter Rosie Flores discovered, no one wanted to release a record an artist could not tour behind. Thanks to friends, fans and Kickstarter, the record has finally been released.

The Blanco Sessions reveals that Martin still had chops. She’s ably aided by the punchy production of Flores and fellow Texan Bobby Trimble (who both also assist as musicians), and a hot combo of Austin area singers and instrumentalists that include Kelly Willis, Beau Sample and Dave Biller. The 11 tracks here brim with vitality. This ain’t no retro record made to sound like back then. Martin still has the gusto to make the old styles sound fresh and new.

That’s probably why Flores had Martin lead off with Ruth Brown’s 1955 R&B hit, “As Long as I’m Movin’”. The lovesick narrator just can’t sit still. Martin swallows the words country style one minute and then brazenly growls the next. According to the liner notes, Martin idolized Brown and had a framed picture of her in her music room. She must have sung this song a million times in the privacy of her studio as she nails the number.

That is not the only energetic tune on the disc. Martin romps through Ronnie Dawson’s raunchy “Wham Bam Jam” and the oft-recorded rebel classic “Wild One (Real Wild One)”. Martin proves that she, a 65-plus-year-old legend from the past, can still rock and roll better than most others of any age.

Martin also can croon more sedate material. She covers Dave Alvin’s bluesy “Long White Cadillac” and lets the music simmer for effect. Martin also takes on Don Gibson’s “Sweet Dreams”, most famously sung by Patsy Cline shortly before her death back in 1963. It’s a gutsy move, because the listener cannot help but compare Martin to one of the greatest musical performances from -- well, whenever. Cline and the song are both exceptionally great.

Somehow, Martin pulls it off. Oh, I don’t mean she can out-sing Cline. But Martin makes one forget about Cline while she sings. Martin vocalizes with control, passion, tonality, etc.-- all of the things which make it turn into a fine performance. She can make one hear a classic song fresh again, which is a mighty achievement. Martin does a fine job on the rest of the material. The titles may be somewhat eclectic, but Martin makes them her own through her singing.

Martin did not know The Blanco Sessions would be her final testament. She left a hell of a will with this music.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.