Janis Joplin

Columbia / Legacy Records, 1971

REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen


Pearl was to be Janis Joplin's breakthrough album. After riding the ups and downs of the music industry in such a short time (and after dismissing the members of the Kozmic Blues Band - divesting herself of the last tie she had to Big Brother And The Holding Company in guitarist Sam Andrew), Joplin finally had the band she wanted, the producer she wanted, and the sound she wanted.

Unfortunately, she would not live to complete her dream; a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970 silenced the 27-year-old singer. But one thing does remain clear: Pearl, the album she was working on at the time of her death, was indeed her best work.

Working with the group she dubbed the "Full Tilt Boogie Band" and hiring producer Paul Rothchild, Joplin finally seemed like she was free of the shackles of her former band. She had proven on her previous album I Got Dem Ol' Kozmic Blues Again Mama!my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 that she could succeed without Big Brother to back her up; what she now needed to prove was that she could thrive as a solo artist. Fortunately, both her new band and producer brought out the best in her.

From the opening track "Move Over" which symbolized a new embrace of rock by Joplin, she showed she wasn't afraid to not only reach out in new directions but to delve back into her past in pursuit of her muse. This track alone says volumes about the new level of comfort Joplin had, and is a great way to kick this disc off.

Pearl might be best-known for the track "Me And Bobby McGee," the Kris Kristofferson co-written song that was Joplin's only number one single. And yes, it's a great track that showed Joplin wasn't afraid of even throwing the possibility of a country twist into her music. But for some reason, I don't consider this her greatest song ever - and I know I'm opening the door up to some serious flame mail for this. (For the record, I'd either select "Down On Me" or "Move Over".)

Joplin even had the courage to go a capella on one track, "Mercedes Benz," though the track shows that Joplin was pushing herself too hard again, as her vocals begin to show the signs of raggedness that came forth on Cheap Thrills. That same ragged style is heard on "Trust Me" and "Get It While You Can," though the vocals aren't nearly as rough as tracks on Cheap Thrills like "Summertime".

One track that Joplin never got to record a vocal for, "Buried Alive In The Blues," remains on this album as an instrumental, almost as if the band wanted to pay tribute to their fallen leader. It's a surprisingly short track, and I kind of wished that it had lasted longer.

For the most part, the original 10 tracks on Pearl shine with very few mistakes (and mainly I'd point out the vocal raggedness as being a distraction). The four live tracks tacked on to this one, all from a concert in Calgary, not only breathe some life into material from the previous album, but also puts a nice shine on the song "Cry Baby". (If the re-releases of Joplin's career take off, the label might want to consider releasing this whole show from July 1970.)

If there was one must-own album of Joplin's career that wasn't a best-of, Pearl would be that album. It shows us an artist who was still growing, and whom I don't think had made her ultimate album yet. Pity that she never got that opportunity.

Rating: B+

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© 1999 Christopher Thelen and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Columbia / Legacy Records, and is used for informational purposes only.