Number 586 - Janis Joplin
"Me & Bobby McGee"
Janis Joplin's second masterpiece (after Cheap Thrills), Pearl was designed as a showcase for her powerhouse vocals, stripping down the arrangements that had often previously cluttered her music or threatened to drown her out. Thanks also to a more consistent set of songs, the results are magnificent -- given room to breathe, Joplin's trademark rasp conveys an aching, desperate passion on funked-up, bluesy rockers, ballads both dramatic and tender, and her signature song, the posthumous number one hit "Me and Bobby McGee." The unfinished "Buried Alive in the Blues" features no Joplin vocals -- she was scheduled to record them on the day after she was found dead. Its incompleteness mirrors Joplin's career; Pearl's power leaves the listener to wonder what else Joplin could have accomplished, but few artists could ask for a better final statement. [The 1999 CD reissue adds four previously unreleased live July 1970 recordings: "Tell Mama," "Little Girl Blue," "Try," and "Cry Baby."] ~ Steve Huey, All Music Guide.
Pic by AngieAauvre
Joplin was raised in the small town of Port Arthur, TX, and much of her subsequent personal difficulties and unhappiness has been attributed to her inability to fit in with the expectations of the conservative community. She'd been singing blues and folk music since her teens, playing on occasion in the mid-'60s with future Jefferson Airplane guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. There are a few live pre-Big Brother recordings (not issued until after her death), reflecting the inspiration of early blues singers like Bessie Smith, that demonstrate she was well on her way to developing a personal style before hooking up with the band. She had already been to California before moving there permanently in 1966, when she joined a struggling early San Francisco psychedelic group, Big Brother & the Holding Company. Although their loose, occasionally sloppy brand of bluesy psychedelia had some charm, there can be no doubt that Joplin -- who initially didn't even sing lead on all of the material -- was primarily responsible for lifting them out of the ranks of the ordinary. She made them a hit at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, where her stunning version of "Ball and Chain" (perhaps her very best performance) was captured on film. After a debut on the Mainstream label, Big Brother signed a management deal with Albert Grossman and moved on to Columbia. Their second album, Cheap Thrills, topped the charts in 1968, but Joplin left the band shortly afterward, enticed by the prospects of stardom as a solo act.
What did Rolling Stone think about Janis Joplin
The greatest white blues singer of her time, Janis Joplin is without rival in plumbing the bottomless depths of loss. Indeed, her spine-tingling wails and moans are a kind of rapture of the deep - no lyric about abandonment is too slight to warrant her bloodcurdling investment in it. That intensity is everywhere evident on Pearl, the album on which the twenty-seven-year-old singer was working at the time of her death, in 1970, from a heroin overdose. Her new band, Full Tilt Boogie, cranks the volume when necessary ("Move Over") but never competes with or overwhelms her, as her previous combos, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band, sometimes did.
Of course, Joplin was not a survivor, and that lends Pearl (her nickname for herself, chosen to match a female lover's tag of Ruby) a poignancy that is as undeniable now as it was upon its posthumous release, in 1971. Her humor on the self-mocking a cappella prayer "Mercedes Benz" (which was recorded in one take) includes this knowing barfly's request: "Prove that you love me/And buy the next round." And her lovely rendition of Kris Kristofferson's "Me and Bobby McGee" is her greatest studio recording - its eloquent restraint all the more effective in communicating the song's heartbreak.
Kristofferson, who had been Joplin's lover not long before her death, cried when he heard her version of the song. "Did we do this?" he reportedly asked as he stood before her dead body. It's the question that caring survivors are always left with, and one that Pearl, in its frightening beauty, does little to resolve. (RS 822) ANTHONY DeCURTIS
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