Janis Joplin – The Pearl Sessions – Sony Legacy (2 CDs)

by | Apr 5, 2012 | Pop/Rock/World CD Reviews

Janis Joplin – The Pearl Sessions – Sony Legacy (2 CDs) 133 min. *****:
If you listen to The Pearl Sessions you may appreciate what a sterling favor the Full Tilt Boogie Band did for her by providing one special service to her: they shut up. Two years earlier Cheap Thrills, Janis’ breakout album with Big Brother and The Holding Company, was marred by Sam Andrews’ intrusive vocals. The man may have been a competent guitar player, but he could not sing. And when he tried to accompany Janis Joplin, it was like a mere mortal trying to upstage a goddess. This is apparent in the recent live release (Big Brother & The Holding Company – Live at the Carousel Ballroom 1968), recorded a few months before Cheap Thrills.
The outtake CD of The Pearl Sessions is precious. It’s filled with great comments by Joplin, like “Wait a minute, I don’t like him startin’ that slur so early,” “This is the last fuckin’ time I’m gonna do it!” and this gem, about some unnamed rock luminary: “No, he’s not even that great. He’s just a bore. He’s a nerd. I’m a groupie and I didn’t want to fuck him!” It has three tasty versions of “Move Over,” one opening with clapping instead of drumbeats. The third version is the closest to the released one, with its faster tempo and urgent phrasing. Some of the demo versions and alternate takes are more compelling than the final releases. Listen to the demo version of the “Me and Bobby McGee” with its spare acoustic guitar accompaniment. I like it better than the pop version released on 45 rpm, even though that one topped the charts to become her only number one single. (It was also the second posthumous number one single in rock & roll history.) But maybe that’s just listening fatigue on my part. I think I’ve heard this song 137 times over the years.
“Cry Baby” opens with a wonderful cackle by Janice then turns into a soulful rendition of this delightful chestnut, with some funny adlibs about traveling and finding herself. It concludes with two excellent numbers, an instrumental version of “Pearl” and “Tell Mama,” both of which did not make it on the studio album. There is a nice live version of “Half Moon” too.
I don’t see much of a point in these extras: the mono singles masters of five cuts that appear in superior stereo form on the album. But who am I to argue with the completists?
Artistically speaking, the original Pearl LP was undeniably Janis’ best album. Paired with a second disc of outtakes, it’s a real winner.
—Peter Bates

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