Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Janis Joplin's Pearl is 40

 Janis Joplin - Pearl
Janis Joplin
Pearl
1971
Rating: ****1/2

Just months after her untimely death, Janis Joplin's last album was released. The album, titled Pearl, was recorded from September 1970 till October 1970. Joplin died from a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970. Joplin was working on the album during the time her death. Luckily, she had previously recorded all the vocals for the songs except one. Her band, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, and Doors producer, Paul Rothchild, decided to finish up the album. In Joplin's lifetime, she had three albums out with her name on it: her two albums with Big Brother and her one solo album. However of the four albums she made, Pearl is the album people go back to. If there was one album that best defined Janis Joplin, it would probably be Pearl.

The album's opening track, "Move Over", is an energetic fueled track. Joplin's vocals are great in this rocker, which she wrote herself. "Move Over" is one of the album's highlights, as it has been covered by bands such as Slade and Cinderella. "Cry Baby" was another hit for Joplin. The song showcases Joplin's ability to sing softly then in the chorus, her voice would be soaring if not screaming. "A Woman Left Lonely" is a softer song but Joplin, as always, delivers. While Joplin might be great in this song, the Full Tilt Boogie Band play brilliantly. I mean, check out the organ solo (which is from Ken Pearson, according to sources. Hats off to you, man!). "Half Moon" switches up the mood back to upbeat. Once again, the musicianship in this song is great. The overall feeling of this song is funky, especially with the guitar riff. Also, have a listen to Joplin's vocals when she's belting "You're breaking the law!!" "Buried Alive in the Blues" is different from all the other songs off the album: it's instrumental. The reason why is because on the day Joplin died, she was supposed to record the vocals for the song. The reason why the instrumental track was left on the album is still a mystery to me. Still, this instrumental song gives the Full Tilt Boogie Band time to show off their skills. The song is really rocking and I've always liked it.

"My Baby" is probably the weakest song off the album but still, the song has its moments. Check out the chorus! "Me and Bobby McGee" is, of course, the #1 hit single off the album. The Kris Kristofferson-Fred Foster penned track has become one of Joplin's signature songs. Joplin's singing is great, especially when it gets closer to the end. "Mercedes Benz" is another unique track: Joplin is singing a capella. Co-written by Joplin, the song has become another one of Joplin's most memorable songs. You also got to love Joplin's cackling at the end. "Trust Me" is a deep cut off the album. Joplin's vocals are soulful and filled with emotion, while the Full Tilt Boogie Band burst out with this soul-fueled sound. "Get It While You Can" finishes the album off perfectly. With the Full Tilt Boogie Band rocking and Joplin belting in the end, you couldn't ask for a better ending.

As of now, Pearl ranks in my list of favorite albums at #38. It surprises me that a posthumous release would rank so high. I think this is because this is the album Janis wanted. Before she died, Janis was able to hear three finished songs: "Me and Bobby McGee", "Mercedes Benz", and "Get It While You Can". If Janis didn't like something about them, I'm sure it would've been in print. Pearl went to #1 in the Billboard charts and became Joplin's best selling album. Why is an album like Pearl so important? It's probably because it's one of the few posthumous albums that didn't get a bad rap (I mean, look at all the criticism Michael Jackson's  first posthumous album got). None of this was re-recorded. It was Janis Joplin, pure and simple. The sad thing about Pearl is that the album shows what could have been. Had Janis lived, she could've had a major comeback with this album. Still, the beauty of Pearl is probably because it best defines who Janis Joplin was.

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