Janis Joplin – The Pearl Sessions + Classic LP Collection

January 01, 1970

(Columbia/Legacy)

 

www.legacyrecordings.com

 

There’s a line from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall that teases its female
namesake (Diane Keaton) when she interjects marijuana into their love-making.
“Yeah, grass, right? The illusion that it will make a white woman more like
Billie Holiday.” I’m not sure why that joke always reminded me of Janis Joplin,
save for the fact that the Port Arthur, Texas native made Holiday a powerful
influence on her raw emotive vocals, after having considered the blues of Big
Mama Thornton, Bessie Smith, Ma Rainey and Lead Belly. It seems like a tease on
the harshed-mellow bluster of Caucasian blues and jazz belting lasses. Teasing
aside, there’s long been something woozily dreamy – and of course, huskily
psychedelic – about Joplin’s
vocalese. She and I can both own the joke for the better. On the occasion of
her 69th birthday (is there something intentionally ribald about
this anniversary or am I being juvenile) her record label has unleashed the
best of Joplin, tried, true, with Big Brother and the Holding Company, the
Kozmic Blues Band and the Full Tilt Boogie Band. And of course,
newly-discovered.

From its outside (a hauntingly gorgeous silhouette of Joplin, long thick mane shimmering) to its
innards, The Classic LP Collection box is de rigueur for the 180- gram
audiophile. It’s a dilly to view the colorful comix-paneled cover of Cheap Thrills from counterculture icon
R. Crumb. But it’s the rough edged bliss-and-dismiss of her voice against the
hard trippy sway of her collaborators. Cheap Thrills actually is the
best sounding of the four LP klatch, denser than Big Brother and the Holding
Company’s Big Brother and I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama! The vividly
live “Ball and Chain,” the curt and churlish “Combination of the Two”
and the dark blue “I Need a Man to Love” sound more alive than ever.

Then there’s Pearl. Whether you take it on vinyl as
part of the Classic package or in its
newly configured The Pearl Sessions with newly found studio outtakes, live performances and chatter rarities, the
tumult of its original 1971 (three months after her passing) comes through loud
and clear. From the throwaway classic a cappella “Mercedes Benz” (the classic
outtake) to the rollicking populism of Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby
McGee” to the staccato howl of “Cry Baby” (here, with its fellow mono
singles from the album (“Get It While You Can,” “Me and Bobby
McGee”), Pearl proves a treasure trove of lust, loss and wearied optimism despite the impending doom to follow. Missed
classics like the fulsome “A Woman Left Lonely” sounds mightier than you
remember. “Half Moon” sounds heartier. And amongst the previously un-issued
cuts, the clinging murky “Move Over” as presented in three twitchily different
versions, becomes Pearl‘s
new centerpiece in its epic rag-tag-agalia with Joplin finding new violent sadness with each
run and riff.

 

And then there’s the
never-before-heard Big Brother and the Holding Company live album, Bear’s Sonic Journal Presents Big Brother
and the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, Live at the Carousel Ballroom
1968
(reviewed elsewhere at BLURT). More than
just massaging the legend of its singer, this recording bears witness to the
prowess of guitarists Sam Andrew and James Gurley, bassists Peter Albin and
David Getz on drums – a solid snaky band with their own growling sound before Joplin slid into their
skin – and the promise of the sun-shining era to come. If only they had
known….

 

DOWNLOAD: “Buried Alive
in the Blues (from Pearl), “Try
(Just a Little Bit Harder)” A.D. AMOROSI

 

 

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