I was watching Fillmore: The Last Days, the documentary about the last concerts at the Fillmore auditorium, and one of the acts on sage, a soul rock review, featured a female vocalist that for all the world sounded like Janis Joplin who had been dead for about 2 years by then and, with the few flashes of her face appeared to be more attractive than Joplin ever was. The eerie things was, when this woman shrieked her passion, she sounded uncannily like the gravel-voiced Joplin of legend and if I closed my eyes I could swear it was Janis giving it her all fronting the Kozmic Blues Band of soul and jazz guys. I had to google the line up of these shows to find that the band in question was Cold Blood and that the vocalist was Lydia Pense, who is still very much alive.
Apparently Joplin knew the band wand had been so impressed with Pense’s vocal style en intensity of soul that she recommended her to Bill Graham the impresario of the Fillmore auditoriums.
I had to buy Cold Blood’s eponymous debut album from 1968. The music is probably derived from the Kozmic Blues of Joplin’s first solo album when she ditched the blues-psych rock sound of Big Brother and the Holding Company for big band soul music and R & B to showcase her roots in Black American music rather than the San Francisco style rock of her first band. Cold Blood gives it some; it is a powerhouse of soul power and Pense has a formidable set of pipes on her. She does not sound like Joplin and is in fact more restrained yet also more soulful at the same time. The tunes are a mixture of covers and more original songs and each of them is performed at a height of sustained intensity that is quite awesome.
Joplin’s version of “Work Me, Lord” is by far the best thing on I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again, Mama and this entire Cold Blood album is on par with that Joplin performance.
I guess Cold Blood is pretty much a rock album based on soul and jazz rather than an authentic soul record of the time, as the musicians play much harder and with much more of a rock edge than the typical soul of the period or even the new funk of the Isley Brothers, James Brown or Funkadelic. Even so it is a refreshing change from the heavy blues or nascent heavy metal of the time, with proper songs, strong vocals and passion that is often lacking in rock music whether the contemporaries of Cold Blood or even now. The band did not conquer the world or become known much outside of the San Francisco Bay area and I guess Lydia Pense was too sensible and not much of an outlaw, hence her survival where the legendary Joplin burnt out. I would not make much of an effort to buy more of Cold Blood’s albums. My guess is that the debut pretty much sets out the stall and that the next bunch or records more or less repeated the strengths of the debut without adding much of interest or progressive development.
This record, though, is a delight. I love soul, I love funk and I love a gritty, gutsy soul powered blow-out by a vocalist who can sing as strongly as Lydia Pense, especially If backed by a band as powerful as this one is.