Pearl by Janis Joplin

July 2, 2010

Janis Joplin began recording Pearl on September 5, 1970. By October first the album was almost complete. Three days later she was dead at the age of 27.

She would only record four studio albums during the course of her short career; two with Big Brother and The Holding Company and two on her own. It remains one of the smallest catalogues of any member of The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame.

Pearl was released posthumously on February 1, 1971, and quickly became a huge commercial success selling four million copies in the United States alone.

Joplin hired her own band for this release and to accompany her on the road. The Full Tilt Boogie Band, which was assembled by guitarist John Till, also included pianist Richard Bell, bassist Brad Campbell, organ player Ken Pearson, and drummer Clark Pierson.

The other important addition in the studio was producer Paul Rothchild of The Doors fame. He proved to be a perfect match for Joplin as he helped to assemble her most mature and smooth effort. The album would rank number 122 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.

The two most memorable tracks are Kris Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee,” which became a huge hit single, and her own “Mercedes Benz” which featured one of the better vocals of her career.

The albums contained a number of strong tracks. “Move Over,” “Cry Baby,” “A Woman Left Lonely,” and “Half Moon” find her making the type of music that appealed to her at the time.

“The most poignant track is “Buried Alive In The Blues,” which remained unfinished. Her vocal was never recorded and it is only the instrumental that was included.

One can only guess at what the musical future held for Janis Joplin. Had she lived Pearl would have been a bridge to somewhere but, because of her untimely death, it remains as her last will and testament. If you want to understand and appreciate Janis Joplin, this is an essential chapter in her life story.

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Live At Winterland ’68 by Janis Joplin/Big Brothers and The Holding Company

June 22, 2010

Live At Winterland ’68 was not released until thirty years after the actual concert. It came as a breath of fresh air, as it captured Janis Joplin with Big Brother and The Holding Company at the height of their powers.

They took time off from recording their Cheap Thrills album to perform two days worth of concerts at the legendary Winterland Ballroom April 12-13, 1968. Five of the seven songs which would comprise that album are presented live here.

My only real complaint is performances from the two shows were combined to make one concert which gives it all a somewhat disjointed affair. I have always preferred to hear a concert as it was played mistakes and all.

The performances are raw, sloppy, loose, and powerful which probably sums up the style of both Janis Joplin and Big Brother. The twin guitars of Sam Andrew and James Gurley combined to make one of the best duos of the day and provided the perfect foundation for Joplin to churn out some of the best blues/rock vocals in history.

It is the Cheap Thrills material which shines the brightest which should not be a surprise as it is some of the strongest in their catalogue and of the period. “Summertime” is emotional as Joplin wails over the guitars. “Ball and Chain” is late sixties rock at its very best and this version is similar to the one which would appear on Cheap Thrills which is very good indeed. Joplin leaves you exhausted by the time she finishes “Piece Of My Heart.” Sam Andrew produces an excellent guitar solo on “I Need A Man To Love.” It must have been quite an experience hearing these songs before they were officially released.

I am also attracted to the extended version of “Light Is Faster Than Sound” as it gives the group a chance to jam and prove they were an excellent live band.

Live At Winterl and ’68 enables the listener to travel back in time and spend an evening with the great Janis Joplin. It is an album with a great cover, great liner notes, and above all great music.

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The Woodstock Experience by Janis Joplin

August 13, 2009

When Janis Joplin took the stage on August 17, 1969 at The Woodstock Music and Art Fair she was already a star of the first magnitude. Her work as the lead singer of Big Brother and The Holding Company had brought her acclaim as one of the leading female rock vocalists in the world. The 1967 Monterey Pop Festival had been her coming out party.

1969 found her having left Big Brother and performing with her new back-up group, The Kozmic Blues Band. This was a funky-style outfit complete with a brass section whose playing was similar to the Stax rhythm and blues sound coming out of Memphis.

The Woodstock Experience has gathered her complete ten-song Woodstock set and combined it with her I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Mama album which was released shortly after her performance.

Her live performance here is the gem. She did not appear in the original Woodstock movie or soundtrack and only one of her songs was included on the 25th and 40th anniversary editions. This is the third album I have heard from this series and it has the best sound by far. In fact I think it is one of the better sounding performances to have been recorded at the festival. It is crisp and clear which is amazing given the recording equipment of the time and the vastness of the outside arena which tended to wash out the sound.

All was not well with Janis, however, as drugs and alcohol had begun to affect her health. She also had to wait over ten hours to take the stage. Her monologues between songs are sometimes rambling and she has trouble with some of the notes on “Work Me Lord.” She just manages to keep it together and get through the song. Even forty years after the fact I found myself rooting for her to make it.

Her Kozmic Blues Band period was not my favorite. Sometimes she lets the band do too much which takes the focus away from her. She is almost a supporting player on the first two songs, “Raise Your Hand” and “As Good As You’ve Been To This World.” I’m more comfortable with a rock ‘n’ roll Joplin than a funky Joplin.

She finally hits her stride with a cover of the Bee Gees tune, “To Love Somebody,” proving why she was one of the best vocalists in the world. Other highlights include “Summertime,” “Piece Of My Heart,” and “Ball and Chain.” All in all it it’s a somewhat uneven performance though on a number of the tracks her brilliance shines through.

I Got Dem Ol’ Kozmic Blues Again Mama would be her only studio album with the group as they would part ways in 1969. While no Janis Joplin album can ever be considered average, she does struggle in places trying to re-create herself as a rhythm and blues singer. I much prefer her Cheap Thrills album with Big Brother and The Holding Company or her posthumous Pearl. Still, this album fits the time period and is a good companion to her performance.

Close to fourteen months after her Woodstock performance Janis Joplin would be dead. Rolling Stone ultimately ranked her as the 46th greatest artist of all time and 28th greatest singer.

The Woodstock Experience resurrects a historic performance by one of the queens of American rock music.