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  • Pearl
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on September 3, 2003
I've never understood the intensity of the PEARL vs. CHEAP THRILLS debate among Joplin fans. Yes, the Big Brother record captured Janis at her raw vital best. Her final album, with the more polished Full Tilt Boogie, was a somewhat different breed of animal, tighter, more "professional," and ultimately, more commercial, providing Joplin her posthumous (and sole) number one hit in Kristofferon's "Me and Bobby McGee." I loved all of Janis' records--including the much maligned Mainstream debut and only somewhat less maligned Kozmic Blues--and never felt compelled to take a stance. The body of work isn't that extensive: it's better to treasure each one for what it has to offer.
And they all offer at least a few real pearls. The variety of styles that Janis' embraced during her brief recording career was impressive. Her former road manager, John Cooke, notes in the liner notes to this newest version of PEARL that Janis' musical restlessness was reflective of her "questing nature." That's certainly true--three different bands in as many years suggests as much--and it's also reflective of the times as well. No one expected the Beatles to do SGT. PEPPER REDUX or the Stones to linger at the (BEGGAR'S) BANQUET for very long.
Moreover, by 1970, when PEARL was recorded, there was more of an emphasis on tighter musicianship and less experimentalism. You could argue that had Janis, in fact, remained with Big Brother, they would have both mellowed out and tightened up themselves (as evidenced on their post-Janis records in the 70s). Maybe so, but there can be little doubt that FTB was a good band and a perfect accompaniment for Janis and that the move toward a more keyboard based sound complemented her vocals in a way that was different (if not necessarily better) that Big Brother's twin guitar freak out.
There's no epic "Ball & Chain" style number here, although "Get It While You Can" is an offering in something of the same spirit, if not the same magnitude. Much of the material here is straightforward rock'n'roll ("Move Over," "Half Moon") appropriate for any bar or garage band to cover.
But along with all that full tilt boogying, there's still plenty of emotional heft. The feeling that she can pack into a single phrase, or WORD, can be revelatory. When she sings, "a woman left lonely is just a VICTI-I-IM of her man," well, you just better believe the lady.
"Bobby McGee" was, of course, proof of what fans already knew, i.e. that Janis was not just about screaming her lungs out. I was glad in the winter of '71 to finally have a Joplin track I could play for my mom, proof not only that Joplin could sing, but that she could be subtle to boot. In fact, a careful listening to PEARL will proove that as Cooke observes in his notes, she was beginning "to learn...something she never expected to learn: how to sing in a new way...(one) that would allow her to sing for years to come."
And that touches on another debate among fans, the one about how long she would have had before her voice gave out totally. It's not just "Bobby McGee" that suggests that she was learning to rely on more on phrasing and shading than on belting. Every track on the album suggests a more mature singer was emerging, with no loss of spontaneity or vitality though. She would have continued to make great blues rock records for years to come, had she lived. Of that I am convinced.
The bonus tracks are all previously unreleased "live" tracks with Full Tilt Boogie. Similar live arrangements of three of these songs have been released in the past, however, so the listener is justified in getting that deja-vu all over again feeling. Fans like me are glad to have them anyway. There are always little differences in phrasing or in her vamps that are worth the price of admission.
For Joplin newbies, though, I'd suggest playing PEARL through a few times straight, and stopping it BEFORE the bonus live tracks. Ending the record with "Get It While You Can" was ending the record on just the right note. It's a mini-anthem for Joplin--as much "on message" as "Bobby McGee" certainly. And both songs took on new meaning in light of her death.
The debate about which Joplin record was the "best" will likely rage on among devotees. Me, I'm not gonna worry about it. To me they're all classics.
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on July 19, 2002
I remember the awe and the sorrow I felt when I bought my first copy of Pearl in the early days of 1971. So much unleashed potential evaporated by the flame, that it seem to haunt the room as I placed the needle to the vinyl to hear the first words "You say that it's over." The good time girl from Port Arthur, Texas whose voice tore at your heart like a ball and chain would sing no longer.
Janis Joplin was just 27 years old when she died in October of 1970. She had put together a band , Full Tilt Boogie, which would dispense with the endless jams and showcase her voice and her talent in a way that wasn�t done by Big Brother. Janis was in the midst of recording Pearl with her vocals tracks for Buried Alive in the Blues scheduled to be recorded the day after her death. Instead Buried Alive in the Blues rests on the album as instrumental filler, a lonely commentary of her life.
Pearl is a truly extraordinary album which displays is the range and emotions which Janis' voice was capable of. It was to be a bridge to better things instead of the lasting musical landmark that it is. Janis Joplin's voice stretches from gentle and tender in a Woman that's Lonely to pained and sorrowful in Cry Baby to amused in Mercedes Benz.
In the days of freedom and loss, Janis Joplin sang Kristofferson's song of freedom and loss with an intense sincerity and pain projected from her depths. Countless numbers sang along with her "Freedom's just another name , for nothing left to lose," knowing full well that there was indeed something more to lose.
I still sing her wonderful original song "Mercedes Benz" to my roses while I garden. There is such a simplicity attached with the great American wish of striking it rich. It remains a reminder of her great humor and sense of irony as well as her incredible talent.
Pearl continues to be a cd which showcases a wonderful voice and talent.
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on April 23, 2002
They don't make `em like Janis Joplin anymore. In today's age of gratuitous vocal overdubbing and endless studio-sparkle, very rarely do vocalists feel the need to muster the immense oomph that was evident in almost every note Miss Joplin ever recorded. Sure, her voice was rugged, raspy and not at all pretty in the traditional sense, but she bellowed every word from straight from the bottom of her gut, putting fiery emotion into every syllable. The album that displays her vocals at their most confident is 1971's Pearl. On her debut, 1968's Cheap Thrills, sludgy, psychedelic guitar shared an equal footing with her mighty cries. On 1969's Kozmic Blues, dense, funky baselines were her partner. On Pearl, though, the instrumentation is placed distinctly behind her vocals. Her commanding, three-dimensional, highly textured voice bounces across delightful melodies ("Move Over" "Cry Baby"), induces dulcet psychedelic trances ("Half Moon," "Trust Me") and soars straight to the heavens ("Get It While You Can," "Me and Bobby McGee"). On a few tracks, her new confidence results in unstructured yelping ("A Woman Left Lonely," "My Baby"), but that is forgivable for so many moments that are utterly intoxicating. No vocalist in years has released an album as raw and powerful as Pearl and it is becoming increasingly unlikely that one ever will.
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on January 25, 2001
I had the vinyl of this recording when it first came out. The mystique and tragic death of J.J. was all part of the listening experience. I was not sure it would stand up to the test of time. Recently, I could not get her version of Me and Bobby Mcgee out of my head and so purchased the cd, with 4 bonus live cuts. They are not really necessary, but Try is nice to have. Janis Joplin could sing, but some times her histrionics left unchecked got on your nerves. That is why Cry Baby has limited appeal for me. But listen to A woman left Lonely, Me and Bobby Mcgee, My Baby, Trust in me, Get it While and you can see what an emotive and sensitive singer she could be. This really is a case where her last recording was her best and not just a hastily packaged deal to cash in on her celebrity. The band is tight, and the soulful, bluesy songs suit her style.
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on April 29, 2002
Paul Rothchild (Doors' producer) came along at just the right time to produce this classic and historic work, which was Janis' last album, released posthumously after her tragic and premature departure from the planet. "Me and Bobby McGee" never ceases to amaze me, especially when she delivers the word "nuthin" after singing the famous line, "freedom's just another word for nothin' left to lose." The way she says "nuthin" is just so flat-out REAL, you know she's speaking to you straight from her bones. (The acoustic demo of this song is available on the 3-CD box set, which sheds light on how Janis single-handedly created the blueprint for this track, just her and her guitar). "My Baby" is gospel-like and redemptive, and is my favorite song on the "Pearl" album. It's as though her voice is a gateway into another realm and sends chills thru the body. "Cry Baby" is also one of Janis' most amazing vocal performances. (I like the alternate version of "Cry Baby" available on the 3-CD box set even better, because it captures some interesting moments of spontaneity and laughter in the studio, along with a very amusing rap midway thru the song.)
What many people don't realize about Janis is that she wrote some of her own (and best) material. "Move Over" is a Janis original and rocks as hard as anything she ever recorded. She sang this song on the Dick Cavett show right before her infamous high school reunion in Port Arthur.
She also performed "Get It While You Can" on the same show, which is as much of an anthem as any song she recorded. The line, "we may not be here tomorrow," is all too prophetic. And the instrumental track of the ironic "Buried Alive in the Blues" is hard to listen for all the obvious reasons because Janis is conspicuous by her absence. (She was scheduled to finish the vocals for this Nick Gravenites tune the day she was found dead from an accidental overdose in her hotel room. The juxtaposition of the uptempo, happy beat of "Buried Alive in the Blues" is at odds with the circumstances, but it is a fitting tribute that it was included on the album, and a stark reminder that Janis was truly a force of nature and an highly exuberant (and joyous) personality, even when missing in action.)
... "Pearl" is rock 'n' roll history, a must for every record collection. There will always be a bummer element to this album because of the association of her death, but her energy and brilliance rock on and shine on, none the less. All praise to Janis---Legend, icon, pioneer---the late, the great Janis Joplin, still-reigning queen of rock.
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I've probably purchased this recording 3 or 4 times since I first bought it back in the early '70's!! That how much I've listened to it. I now have the CD.
This is definetely her best album out of the four she made. To this date, no one has come up with a better version of "Me and Bobby McGee". As for the extra bonus tracks, I'm grateful to SONY for including them. I only wish they had done a better job of editing "Try" and "Cry Baby". I edited them both on my stereo and I did a far better job (I'm not bragging) especially with "Cry Baby". I took out the end part of "Cry Baby". It sounds more palatable to the ears.
I loved hearing "Little Girl Blue" live, as it is one of her finest performances. I also love "My Baby" and "Move Over". Great songs. Full Tilt Boogie were incredible musicians!
Still a top notch listnening pleasure! Still amazing after all these years!!!
Best regards from Beautiful British Columbia!
John Jensen
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on June 16, 2004
There'll never be another Janis Joplin, and this is the album to have.
For the entirety of it, Janis's passionate, throaty voice sings for every woman who's ever ... been on the road, been dumped, been unfairly led on, been wildly in love and ready to do it again, been annoyed by materialism or - you name it! Her songs speak plainly about her life as a woman who didn't meet all the stereotypes, and who knows what pain -- and joy are.
Her voice is never "pretty", but always passionate.
If you only plan to have one Janis album -- don't buy a greatest hits. Buy this one -- PEARL. These songs need to be enjoyed in their original order. There's a flow and story in the arrangement. (Besides, most greatest hits albums will include a lot of songs from this album.)
If you buy this and still wish you had BALL AND CHAIN or SUMMERTIME, you can buy a greatest hits album to complement it. But PEARL is the one you have to have in its entirety.
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VINE VOICEon November 21, 2010
Pearl," (1971), is one of the most legendary of recordings. It was, sadly, posthumously released, as Janis Joplin, its greatly-talented maker, died of a heroin overdose on October 4, 1970, at the age of 27, as she was finishing it up. She left her vocal to "Buried Alive in the Blues" unsung; so that it was released on the record as an instrumental by Full-Tilt Boogie, the backing band she'd put together for herself, which most people preferred to Big Brother and the Holding Company, the San Francisco-based psychedelic blues rock band with which she first became popular.

"Pearl" is bluesy, funky, driving, much like its troubled maker, and will have to stand as her memorial. It has powerful tracks of "Cry Baby," and a live "Try (Just a Little Bit Harder," and a witty acapella "Mercedes Benz." "A Woman Left Lonely," and Bobby Womack's "Trust Me," are gritty blues. "A Woman Left Lonely," was, I believe, described by Time magazine as music to which a girl might cut her wrists. Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee," of course, became her signature song: it was her only number one hit, achieved posthumously.

I actually was once able to see Janis live, with "Big Brother," performing the Cheap Thrills (Exp) repertory, at a famous venue of the time, Bill Graham's Fillmore East, on New York's Lower East Side. All these years later, I still remember the expectant hush when the house lights went down, the sweet aroma of various illegal substances, and Joplin's electrifying performance. It was quite a night, I can tell you. Nobody will ever have that chance again, but the recordings remain.
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on March 19, 2002
Great album! After Kosmic Blues broke up, Janis formed Full Tilt Boggie. After the tour, the band start making the album. "Move Over" is a great blues song writen by her. "Cry Baby" is a hard blues song. "Buried Alive In The Blues" is an instrumental song because when Full Tilt played the song and called it a wrap. The next day the, Janis had to do vocals for the song. She did not make it. She died. But its still good. "Me and Bobby McGee" is a great song. It shot to 1#. "Get it while you can" is also good. Pearl will be a classic forever.
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on July 17, 2000
...deserving of a place in rock n roll's immortal LPs catalog, Joplin's "Pearl" is great music even if you were not a big fan of the lady's no hold barred gut blues style. I have been a secret fan of the cut "Half Moon" by Janis for years, but the LP has that classic hippie cut, "Mercedes Benz"... I get a kick out of that evvytime I hear it. I also agree however, that this is not the best Janis--"...Kozmic Blues" or "Cheap Thrills" are perhaps better representations. This, however, ain't bad.
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