Review Summary: The ultimate album by troubled blues heroine from Texas.
Janis Joplin has been one of the one of the most popular blues-women ever, partly due to her enormous talent, partly due to her lifestyle. By 1970, she recorded one excellent album with Big Brother and Holding Company called "Cheap Thrills", one solid, eponymous, with the same band, and not so successful solo. Her talent was evident, her live performances often ecstatic but she needed one more great proof of her possibilities, "Cheap Thrills" aside, because the excesses in her private life were threatening to take her away from serious rock music fans. She was backed up by the band Full Tilt Boogie, and in September of 1970 came back to studio. On October, 2nd she sang on her last session. All vocals were completed except "Buried Alive in the Blues". On October, 4th, she died of drug overdose. Unnamed album was christened "Pearl", because that was Joplin's nickname posthumously released in 1971 and topped US charts, not because of mass hysteria but because of the album's high quality.
So it is easy to search some hidden messages here, but it is not that kind of record. Of course, it is a great one, and I've got an impression that she knew what she was musically doing, that she was 100% aware of her situation musically and privately. Although Joplin's roots were blues drenched, "Pearl" is great collection of the purest rock and roll in 35 minutes. Joplin's singing is awesome as ever, Full Tilt Boogie played perfectly complementary to her voice ("Woman Left Lonely" and "Half Moon" are particularly successful collaborations, and organist really shone on couple tracks), and the songs were the best she ever had. Here, she wrote by herself "Move Over" and "Mercedes Benz", both classics. If she had lived, maybe she would have developed her songwriting talent as well. She covered Kris Kristofferson's "Me and My Bobby McGee" from his debut album adding urgency and passion Kristofferson's vocal never could match. "Bobby" was released as a single and not only topped the charts but helped its author to break through (in the early 1970, when Kristofferson's debut was released, it suffered to poor sales, but after Joplin's smash, it was renamed as "Me And Bobby McGee" and went gold). She made a lot of great vocals elsewhere, but her singing on "Pearl" is something else, because she learned how to use that mighty weapon, her voice, and mostly had found a balance between heart and mind, screaming and whispering. Her singing is equally expressive and energetic even in moments of her whispering.
The album's weak spots seem logical and cruel: "Buried Alive in the Blues", although instrumental track is great, and her vocal performances on "My Baby" and "Cry Baby" are too similar. List of deathless tunes and performances is of course longer: "Move Over", "Woman Left Lonely", "Half Moon", "Me and Bobby McGee", "Trust Me", "Get It While You Can", and of course "Mercedes Benz". In "Mercedes Benz" her backing band was reduced to one good metronome, and that was enough for her to bring palette of emotions from some poor woman from south of USA. And her invitation: "Everybody" sounds both poignant and funny. When did you last time hear some rock singer singing a capella that convincingly? I'll tell you: The Beach Boys on "Live In London" singing "Their Hearts Were Full of Spring", and that's it. But The Beach Boys were choir.
If you want to explain someone meaning of the word (or genre) rock and roll, you can give him or her this record and you won't make a mistake.