Janis Joplin: The Pearl Sessions

As one would expect, the most excellent stuff made it on the original record.

Janis Joplin

The Pearl Sessions

Label: Sony Legacy
US Release Date: 2012-04-17
UK Release Date: 2012-04-16
Label website
Artist website

Watching the local rural (Cascade) Iowa hometown band open for Justin Townes Earle recently, the lead singer mentioned he had recently performed with a new female singer. "She's the second coming of Janis Joplin", he intoned. However, judging by his looks one could not imagine he had been around for the first one. No matter, Joplin has become the gold standard by which other female rock vocalists are measured. More than forty years after her untimely death, she is still thought of as the greatest woman singer of the modern era.

And most listeners consider Joplin’s final album Pearl her best record. Although Joplin died before the disc was released, she approved every song and arrangement she sang on (there was one instrumental). The tight Full Tilt Boogie Band, which backed her up, was considered a better fit than her freewheeling previous ones, Big Brother and the Holding Company and the Kozmic Blues Band. Pearl hit number one on the Billboard charts in 1971 and stayed there for nine weeks, went quadruple platinum, and routinely has made “best albums of all times” lists. Simply put, Pearl is a rock classic.

When Pearl was first remastered on compact disc in 1991, the package included four live recordings from her last tour in 1970 as bonus tracks. In 2005, a two-disc edition was released that included additional live tracks and a happy birthday to John Lennon tribute recording of "Happy Trails" that she taped in the studio with the band during the Pearl sessions. Now Sony Legacy is reissuing the album for the third time as The Pearl Sessions with more bonus tracks and alternate takes as well as studio conversations between Joplin, the band, and her producer during the recording sessions.

Some of the conversations are strictly work related as the group works out how they want the songs to sound, others are silly as they joke with each other, and some are just mundane discussions. While hearing Joplin speak is always a pleasure as the blissful spirit of her personality exudes from her every pore, these do not make the The Pearl Sessions worth replacing one's copy of the original Pearl. Nor do the alternate takes. While the demo version of Joplin playing acoustic guitar and singing "Me and Bobby McGee" offers much pleasure, it is not as good as the hit version recorded with the band. The same is true of alternate versions of other material, including three separate renditions of "Move Ove"” (listed as take 6, take 13, and take 17 respectively) or three different takes of "Get it While You Can", and double versions of various other songs. As one would expect, the most excellent stuff made it on the original record. And sometimes one take was all she needed, as she revealed on "Mercedes Benz".

The best thing about The Pearl Sessions is the first disc, which includes a dynamic copy of the ten songs from the original stereo album and six more mono versions that were released on 45 rpm records back in the day. While Joplin's voice jumps out of both the stereo and mono cuts, comparing the two reveals the strengths of both technologies. The stereo cuts are much more forceful. One is meant to play them at full volume. The mono cuts are meant for radio, and when played at the lower volumes needed lest the speakers clip or the music distort on the less technological equipment, one can appreciate Joplin's subtle touches as she clearly enunciates the lyrics no matter how intense her performance.

So buy a copy of Pearl if you do not already have one. It’s a true classic that deserves to be played and remembered regularly. As to The Pearl Sessions, well, that’s for the completist. The extra tracks are fun, but far from essential.






Kent Russell Seeks the Soul of Florida on Epic Road Trip, on Foot

In a bit of drunken revelry, Kent Russell and his buddies decide it is their destiny to tell the gonzo story of Florida in the time when Trump is campaigning for president.


The 12 Best Brian Wilson Songs

From massive hits to obscure, experimental pop compositions, Brian Wilson's music is always thoughtful, idiosyncratic, and as thrilling today as it was in the 1960s.


Victoria Bailey's "Skid Row" Exemplifies the Bakersfield Sound (premiere + interview)

Victoria Bailey emerges with "Skid Row", a country romp that's an ode to an LA honky-tonk and the classic California Bakersfield sound.


Activism Starts at Home: A Conversation with S.G. Goodman

Folk rocker S.G. Goodman discusses changing hearts and minds in the rural American South, all while releasing her debut album in the middle of a global pandemic. Goodman is a rising artist to watch.


Shinichi Atobe's 'Yes' Sports an Appealing Electronic Eeriness

Despite its reverence for the roots of house music, an appealing eeriness blows through electronic producer Shinichi Atobe's Yes like a salty sea breeze.


Irmin Schmidt Meets John Cage on 'Nocturne'

Irmin Schmidt goes back to his Stockhausen roots with a new live album, Nocturne: Live at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival.


Country's Corb Lund Finds the Absurd in 'Agricultural Tragic'

On Corb Lund's Agricultural Tragic, he sings of grizzly bears, tattoos, hunting rats and elk, the meaning of author Louis L'Amour's fiction, and the meaning of life.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

How Aaron Sorkin and U2 Can Soothe the Pandemic Mind

Like Aaron Sorkin, the veteran rock band U2 has been making ambitious, iconic art for decades—art that can be soaring but occasionally self-important. Sorkin and U2's work draws parallels in comfort and struggle.


Jockstrap's 'Wicked City' Is an Unfolding of Boundaries

On Wicked City, UK art-pop duo Jockstrap run through a gamut of styles and sounds, sometimes gracefully, sometimes forcefully, but always seductively.


Chewing the Fat: Rapper Fat Tony on His Latest Work From Hip-hop's Leftfield

Fat Tony proves a bright, young artist making waves amongst the new generation of hip-hop upstarts.


The Bobby Lees Strike the Punk-Blues Jugular on Jon Spencer-Produced 'Skin Suit'

The Bobby Lees' Skin Suit is oozing with sex, sweat and joyful abandon. It's a raucous ride from beginning to end. Cover to cover, this thing's got you by the short hairs.


'Perramus: The City and Oblivion' Depicts Argentina's Violent Anti-Communist Purge

Juan Sasturain and Alberto Breccia's graphic novel Peraramus: The City and Oblivion, is an absurd and existential odyssey of a political dissident who can't remember his name.


Daniel Avery's Versatility Is Spread Rather Thin on 'Love + Light'

Because it occasionally breaks new ground, Daniel Avery's Love + Light avoids being an afterthought from start to finish. The best moments here are generally the hardest-hitting ones.


Khruangbin Add Vocals But Keep the Funk on 'Mordechai'

Khruangbin's third album Mordechai is a showcase for their chemistry and musical chops.


Buscabulla Chronicle a Return to Puerto Rico in Chic Synthwave on 'Regresa'

Buscabulla's authenticity -- along with dynamite production chops and musicianship -- is irreplaceable, and it makes Regresa a truly soulful synthwave release.


The Cyclops and the Sunken Place: Narrative Control in 'Watchmen' and 'Get Out'

Hollywood is increasing Black representation but Damon Lindelof and Jordan Peele challenge audiences to question the authenticity of this system.

Featured: Top of Home Page

'Breathing Through the Wound' Will Leave You Gasping for Air

As dizzying as Víctor Del Árbol's philosophy of crime may appear, the layering of motifs in Breathing Through the Wound is vertiginous.


12 Essential Kate Bush Songs

While Kate Bush is a national treasure in the UK, American listeners don't know her as well. The following 12 songs capture her irrepressible spirit.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.