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Janis Joplin is now probably more famous for her drug overdose than her music, but she carved her own niche in the market dominated by men. Janis and her backing group Big Brother and the Holding Company had become successful before Janis went solo.
Pearl was released just after her death which was a great shame, as this album show cased Janis' true raw talent. From gutsy songs like 'Cry Baby' to the more upbeat 'Move Over' and everywhere inbetween. Janis' singing ability is fantastic, although I often describe her singing as an acquired taste. She really is like Marmite, you either love her or you hate her.
My favourite song from this album is'Me and Bobby McGee'. It's a great song to sing along to. Also the melodic 'Trust Me' shows the softer side of Janis. As a white woman, Janis was able to prove she was just as good a blues singer as Aretha Franklin and others of the era.
Whilst listening to Janis belt out her songs you can feel the energy and I personally can't help but sing along. It is more sophisticated than her earlier work, and I wonder just what she had would have produced if her solo career had not been cut so short.
This is one of my top ten albums alongside Carole King's 'Tapestry' and Fleetwood Mac's 'Rumours'. I would recommend to anyone who likes blues and gutsy singers. Janis has it by the bucketload.
1. Move Over *
2. Cry Baby *
3. A Woman Left Lonely
4. Half Moon *
5. Buried Alive In The Blues
6. My Baby
7. Me And Bobby McGee
8. Mercedes Benz *
9. Trust Me
10. Get It While You Can
11. Tell Mama [live]
12. Little Girl [live]
13. Try [just a little bit harder] [live]
14. Cry Baby [live]
Recorded Sept/Oct 1970. Released February 1971
Produced By Paul A Rothchild
Personal Faves *
'Pearl' was Janis Joplin's last album, released a few months after her death from a drug overdose. The album is significant for several reasons, it is the first album which Janis felt that she had full control of, and she selected a group of excellent musicians to make up her band the 'Full Tilt Boogie Band.'
The performances all have a raw soul/blues feel to them and Janis sings her heart out on all the tracks. I much prefer 'Pearl' to the earlier Big Brother and the Holding Company albums; the psychedelic blues jam band which Janis was lead singer of before her very short solo career.
This album is a classic of the 'hippy' era, though it has a lot more teeth than some of the west coast recordings of the time. It sits well next to contemporary albums by artists like Aretha Franklin and Funkadelic and has more in common with those artists than much of the other white rock music of the era.
Produced by Doors producer Paul A Rothchild, the album sounds more accomplished than earlier Big Brother recordings which tended to sound a bit muddy and messy, not necessarily showcasing Janis's vocals as much as they should have. Also, instead of endless blues jamming, the songs here are much more restrained and as a result, probably hold up better for a modern audience.
The album opens with the propulsive 'Move Over', one of two Janis original compositions on the album. This is a definite highlight and one of my 4 favourite tracks on the album. I'm sure 'Move Over' has been covered though I can't think of who might have covered it.
After this great opening track, there are two slow paced expressive blues covers, ['Cry Baby' and 'A Woman Left Lonely'] the kind of stuff which Janis really shines on and shows her influences of Bessie Smith and Leadbelly. 'Cry Baby' contains elements of Gospel, Soul, Blues and Rock. The whole melting pot of influences, an awesome performance. 'A Woman Left Lonely' is similarly impassioned and magnificent.
Next up is 'Half Moon' a funky guitar/organ workout, often seen as a slight entry in the Janis Joplin songbook, I love this track, the stop/start verse and then the chorus where band and singer really 'go for it'. One to crank up and annoy the neighbours!. The song was written by John Hall, now a Democratic Congressman for New York's 19th District!.
'Buried Alive In The Blues' is a poignant instrumental frantic blues rave up. Janis was due to record vocals for the track the day she died, when compiling the masters for the album it was decided to put the track on the album as it was. It would have been great to see what Janis would have done with the vocal on this.
'My Baby' is a Jerry Ragavoy song, who had previously written The Rolling Stones hit 'Time Is On My Side' and the evergreen 'Piece Of My Heart'. Ragavoy was obviously a favourite writer of Janis, as he penned 3 tracks on 'Pearl'.
'Me And Bobby McGee' was a hit for Kris Kristofferson and then went on to be a big hit for Janis when released shortly after her death. I slightly prefer the Kristofferson version, but both band and Janis put in another spirited/rocking performance.
'Mercedes Benz' will be familiar to many for being used by Mercedes Benz as an advert for their cars!. When I first heard the song I thought it must be an old blues woman singing it, it was only later after getting 'Pearl' that I realised who it was. The song was intended to be worked on further, the version included on the album was a first take a-capella demo, but of course it is absolutely perfect as it is, and its almost impossible now to think of it being performed any other way. The second song by Janis on the album.
'Trust Me' is a fine version of Bobby Womack's soul belter, and to finish we have 'Get It While You Can' both very soulful and powerful performances from Janis. The bonus tracks are not really necessary but provide interesting snapshots of Janis and her band live at this time, recorded on the famous 'Festival Express' tour in Canada, 3 months before her death.
Ultimately 'Pearl' is both a sad and uplifting album to listen to, sad that at the peak of her powers Janis died, but also uplifting in the strength of the performances of singer and band. A test of the quality of an album is how it sounds nearly 40 years on and I played albums by Amy Winehouse and Kings Of Leon around this and it held its own. This would sound just as terrific if it was released today.
The 1999 re-mastered Sony Legacy version which I have will set you back about £4 on Amazon [money well spent!] and I highly recommend it.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Move Over
2 Cry Baby
3 Woman Left Lonely
4 Half Moon
5 Buried Alive In The Blues
6 My Baby
7 Me And Bobby McGee
8 Mercedes Benz
9 Trust Me
10 Get It While You Can
11 Tell Mama
12 Little Girl Blue
13 Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)
14 Cry Baby