Janis Joplin: The Pearl Sessions

Written by April 19th, 2012 at 9:52 am

Janis Joplin
The Pearl Sessions
(Sony/Legacy)
Music: Rating: ★★★★★
Package: Rating: ★★☆☆☆

Released in January 1971, three months after her October 1970 death, Pearl quickly became Janis Joplin’s definitive studio album, rising to #1 on the Billboard charts and staying there for nine weeks. Joplin ditched the horn section that somewhat muddied her Kozmic Blues project and, along with her new Full Tilt Boogie Band, cranked out a batch of bluesy rock nuggets that would ultimately define her distinctive vocal talents as more substantial and dynamic than just the caricature of a hard charging, heavy drinking, blues belting mama she had become. It has rightly assumed iconic status in her slim catalog of studio recordings.

“The definitive two-disc edition of Janis Joplin’s farewell album…” boasts this new reissue’s press release. Of course the same thing was claimed about 2005’s Legacy Edition, also a two disc set that bolstered the original 10 song program with live and bonus material. This one presents newly found studio footage of not only Janis communicating with her producer (and as the liner notes suggest, budding love interest) and band members, but running through different takes, including demos, of half the songs before settling on the one we now consider classic.

The more cynical among us will consider this nothing more than a cash grab, scraping the bottom of the album’s tape barrel for snippets to lighten fan’s pockets. And considering that the first disc is just the basic 10 songs with six mono single versions that are minimally different than the originals, it’s easy to look askew at the package.

But the treasures come on the second disc which includes fly on the wall studio chatter and rawer takes of “Move Over,” “Get it While You Can,” “My Baby” and “Cry Baby.” A demo and alternate version of “Me and Bobby McGee” aren’t radically altered from what ended up as the final hit. Two live songs and the “Pearl” instrumental—previously released– fill out the rest of the disc’s 75 minutes. It’s all interesting, even fascinating to hear…once. But Janis Joplin was not the Beatles, Dylan or the Stones, artists whose creative process and outtakes would be of immense historical value. While Pearl is a terrific album and the height of Joplin’s studio career, it is not in a league with some of rock’s most genre defining work. How often anyone but the hardest core fanatic will return to this vault clearing ephemera is debatable.

Suffice it to say that unless you simply need to own everything Janis touched, this package is of negligible value. Newcomers will be better served by the 2005 edition with its powerful concert material showing how Joplin and the scrappy Full Tilt reinterpreted her earlier work. It’s a far more essential, educational and enjoyable listening experience.

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