Pearl remains a jewel in the short, gaudy career of a true original.
Chris Jones 2008-03-27
Like another flower child whose legacy long outlived their brief spell on this world, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin achieved worldwide notoriety after her appearance at Monterey festival. Her wailing rendition of Ball And Chain signalled the arrival of a feisty blues shouter who made up in attitude what she may have lacked in technique. Yet two years later, following her rejection of the group with whom she made her name - Big Brother And The Holding Company, she began a search for a band who could allow her to rock out yet ground her more wayward tendencies. Following a year-long spell with the Stax-styled Kozmic Blues Band she finally assembled what she considered to be her own band - The Full Tilt Boogie Band. Following a tour in the Summer of 1970 she and the band settled down to record what would become Pearl. It was to be her last recorded work.
By the fall of 1970 Janis' prolonged use of heroin had worn down a vast amount of the goodwill that she'd built up in the business, yet it seemed that her happiness with the band of young Canadian musicians served, at least for a brief spell, to assuage her inner demons. Working with Doors' producer Paul Rothschild, she recorded enough music to make up an album despite the cruel curtailment of the sessions due to her demise.
Pearl is a smoother, more polished album than anything Janis had achieved previously. Her other great album, Cheap Thrills (with Big Brother...) is a fine record but sloppy in execution. Pearl, conversely is the sound of an artist growing up. The Full Tilt Boogie Band keep her grounded on a song like A Woman Left Lonely which would, in earlier times, have allowed her to become too self-indulgent. Pearl's most famous track - Klris Kristofferson's Me And Bobby McGee - is a song that wouldn't have suited her in 1967, but now her voice delivered it in a near definitive style. Even a track as throwaway as the a capella Mercedes Benz has a warmth that makes one wonder how she would have continued to mature.
There's a gaping hole at the center of this great album in the shape of Nick Gravenites' Buried Alive In The Blues. The aptly-titled song remains an instrumental as Janis died the day before her vocal was due to be added. For all its incompleteness (or maybe because of it) Pearl remains a jewel in the short, gaudy career of a true original.