Janis Joplin - Pearl - Review
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critics' view

Despite the trials and tribulations of her personal life, Janis Joplin was at the peak of her powers at the turn of the decade. Thanks mainly to her trusted guitarist John Till, she finally had a group, the Full Tilt Boogie Band, who, she felt, could deliver her soulful blues rock vision and, at the same time, fit in with her Rock n Roll lifestyle. The band was composed of Till, pianist Richard Bell, bassist Brad Campbell, drummer Clark Pierson, and organist Ken Pearson. She was quoted as saying: “Full Tilt Boogie Band is my band. Finally, it's my band!” Not only was she leading the group, she was in full artistic control of the material. Before the studio recordings in September, the group had worked these songs out with a few months of solid live performances. All nine of the vocal tracks that made it onto “Pearl” were selected by Janis, and she had the final say in the studio arrangements. Producer Paul A. Rothchild was heavily into the work and called her a “dream” to work with. That man knew his craft. The harmonious environment shines through on the LP – I think it would be fair to say Janis had a dream producer to work with too.

Soulful, edgy and occasionally even playful, the full emotional flavour of Joplin’s sound floods out on an album which revels in real-life issues of love and pain and oozes class at every turn. There was none of that darned showboating which tainted so many blues rockers of the day. In short, Janis and Full Tilt with Rothchild were believable.

Her new-found musical confidence is exemplified on the album opener, “Move Over”, one of her own compositions. She struts every bit as surely as Jagger, and Full Tilt come across like some sort of Stones / Doors super-group. Seizing the moment, “Cry Baby”, a Garnet Mimms cover, rolls in gloriously, and Janis comes over as cool as James Brown doing “Please Please Please”. We’re talking high priestess levels of soul-power, oozing class and dripping with passion. Blues and Soul roots dominate proceedings, but an alt-country one-two emerges strongly on side 2 with “Me and Bobby Magee”, which talks of the heartbreak of losing a free-spirited other, and “Mercedes Benz” her a capella anti-consumerism hippie anthem of “great social and political import” as she so cutely put it. “That’s it” she advises at the end, as if saving you from hanging around awkwardly waiting for the guitars and drums to kick in, before signing off with a chuckle that gets you chuckling with her.

It’s kinda heart-breaking to learn that this lil’ beauty was her final work. As Paul Rothchild recalled in ’92: “It wasn’t a sad and tragic time. Fun was the underlying thing.” It seems, however, that the jovial atmosphere in the studio was in stark contrast to her private life reality; after a period of abstinence, Janis had resumed the heroin habit that had plagued her life in the late 60s. In the early hours of 4th October 1970, she died, aged just 27, from what was thought to be an accidental heroin overdose. A devastated Paul Rothchild and John Till had to work through their own grief to complete the project over the next couple of weeks, but they did so, and emerged with a fantastic set. Lately, Janis had been known as “Pearl” among her friends. Her last LP was a wee gem; her vision was finally realised.

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