Janis Joplin: The Pearl Sessions

C. Michael Bailey By

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Janis Joplin

The Pearl Sessions

Legacy Records


Pearl was vocalist Janis Joplin's valedictory and most fully realized recording. She never lived to see it released, dying of a heroin overdose the October previous to the album's release on January 11, 1971. Sadly, the recording was made with Joplin's last, and most empathetic group, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, a quintet led by the singer. It was a tight and precise funk-soul combo, scaled down from the horn-heavy Kosmic Blues Band the singer employed on I Got Dem Ol' Kosmic Blues Again Mama! (Columbia, 1969) and contemporarily at Woodstock. Joplin had expanded stylistically beyond soul-blues into country music and straight rock that was all the way becoming of her. With Pearl, Joplin revealed that her talent was well beyond any of her contemporaries.

The "thing" that Joplin had that no one else during the late 1960s and early '70s had was her "feralness." Joplin personified complete abandon. As observed previously of her Woodstock performance in 1969:

"She was living and performing on the edge and her tenuous grasp is evident both in the studio and on stage. The Bee Gee's 1967 hit 'To Love Somebody,' once thought to be a poor repertoire choice for Joplin, proves, on these two discs, a revealing contrast of the singer in the studio and on stage. On 'Kosmic Blues' Joplin sings the song barely contained. She is pleadingly soulful yet oddly relaxed, comfortable approaching the creative edge. Break to her heroin-fueled performance at Woodstock and we hear Joplin unleashed in full abandon. The performance is a glorious sloppy mess, but one for the ages."

But Joplin was not near finished in 1969, but her precious time was limited. She temporarily recovered from her excesses to deliver something beyond anything she previously recorded. She did this under the direction of one Paul A. Rothchild, who was to wash his hands of The Doors months later, before the release of the group's masterpiece LA Woman (Elektra, 1971). Assembling The Full Tilt Boogie Band from the ashes of the Kosmic Blues Band plus new members, Joplin achieved her most sympatico band, tight as a drum and ready to rock.

"Move Over" illustrates all of these characteristics in one song. An ambitious beat introduces the song with Joplin and guitarist John Till comps over the first two verses with the entire band joining in a biting rhythm. But it is the soul pieces, "Cry Baby," "A Woman Left Lonely" and "Get it While You Can" that really indicate where Joplin was going. It is a shame that she never covered "Son of A Preacher Man," a song barely two years old when Pearl was recorded. Where Dusty Springfield was British soul prim, and Aretha Franklin and Tina Turner were all humid R&B, Joplin would have added just enough salacious lust to bring the song to a proper boil...no preacher's son ever met anyone like Janis Joplin.

There are plenty of excerpts from between songs that paint a picture of an artist, out of control or not, operating at an extremely high level. But this was to be Joplin's Liebestod, dying before the mixing was complete. Pearl was a beautiful and sad love letter discovered too late at a time when music was traveling at the speed of sound.

Tracks: CD1: Move Over; Cry Baby; A Woman Left Lonely; Half Moon; Buried Alive In The Blues; My Baby; Me and Bobby McGee; Mercedes Benz; Trust Me; Get It While You Can; Mono Single Masters: Me and Bobby McGee; Half Moon; Cry Baby; Get It While You Can; Move Over; A Woman Left Lonely. CD2: Overheard In The Studio...; Get It While You Can (take 3); Overheard In The Studio...; Get It While You Can (take 5); Overheard In The Studio...; Move Over (take 6); Move Over (take 13);Move Over (take 17); Me and Bobby McGee (demo); Me and Bobby McGee (take 5); Cry Baby (alternate); A Woman Left Lonely (alternate vocals); Overheard In The Studio...; My Baby (alternate); Overheard In The Studio...; Get It While You Can (take 3); My Baby (alternate); Pearl (instrumental); Tell Mama (Live); Half Moon (Live).

Personnel: Janis Joplin: vocals; Brad Campbell: bass; Clark Pierson: drums; Ken Pearson: organ; John Till: guitar; Richard Bell: piano; Sandra Crouch: Tambourine; Bobbie Hall: congas/bongos; Bobby Womack: acoustic guitar.

Track Listing:

Personnel: Musician Name #1: instrument; Musician Name #2: instrument; Musician Name #3: instrument.

Year Released: 2012 | Record Label: Legacy Recordings

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